"In a world bursting with data and complexity and never enough time or tools to make sense of either, it’s a relief to find someone like Gong Szeto. A self-described “independent thinker who sits squarely on a four-legged stool of business, political economy, user experience, and technology,” GBN’s newest Network member is an information designer who specializes in making maps and meaning out of overwhelming data sets and complex subject matter. Want to see the entire financial crisis broken down visually? The global poverty problem sketched out on one blackboard? Need your financial traders to get better at seeing patterns within steady streams of market data? Call Szeto. You’ll be joining an impressive roster of companies who already have—including Sony, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Sirius-XM Radio, the New York Times, Dow Jones & Company, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Shiseido, Viacom, Barnes & Noble, and Sotheby’s.
At just 45, Szeto has already logged considerable miles in his efforts to help people find better ways to separate signal from noise through the visual maps and interfaces that he designs. Currently the principal of Gong Szeto Design Office and a fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, he was previously the founder of the trendsetting interactive design firm i/o 360; chief creative officer at Rare Medium Inc., a company that develops technology solutions for corporate giants like Goldman Sachs; and director of design and product design at PEAK6 Investments LP, a $2 billion proprietary equity options trading firm, hedge fund, and financial services business incubator. While still in his 20s, he was counted among I.D. Magazine’s “Top 40 Innovators in the U.S. and Europe.” In this GBN interview, Szeto shares more about what he does, how he works, and why design is a critical skill for the 21st century."
You worked for a long time using design for a better understanding of financial patterns. How did the shift to geopolitics take place? What could you keep of the previous professional experience and what were the challenges you faced?
I designed trading systems for financial firms for a long time. Market data is vast and constantly changing. Whether a small investor or a large institutional trading operation, you care about prices, trends, context, what others are doing, all in the name of placing the right bet. The work I have done ranges from how to display large amounts of constantly changing information in a simple way, to how to reduce the mouse clicks needed to execute and order, to sophisticated tools to determine whether your portfolio positions are at risk relative to events occurring in the marketplace. Financial trading systems are where I cut my teeth in designing for insight-decision-action loops. You see a stock price, study the rest of the market to see how events might affect this trend, and decide to buy, sell, or hold. This is identical to Kenny Rogers’s know when to hold, know when to fold, know when to walk away.
I am currently retained by a major late stage biotechnology and life sciences venture capital fund to develop next-generation cloud-services appiications in the clinical bioinformatics and genomic risk factor visualization space. Gonna be a really fun year.
Part of a series of studies in ways to visualize multi-scalar risk signatures. Work-in-progress.
CAPAtalism COURSE SYLLABUS
This Group Tutorial will be an intensive look at our global economic system using the unfolding events of the Occupy Wall Street movement as the crucible of analysis. In addition to an overview of how our global economic system works, we will examine through research, empirical observation, and personal experiences related and embedded concepts such as public policy, culture, politics, and human behavior. There will be some key capacities taught through multiple exercises, known as Cause Mapping and Solution Mapping. The overarching goal of this Group Tutorial is to collaborate on a CAPA framework for understanding the global economy as it pertains to affecting people’s lives in both positive and negative ways. Students will make a live presentation of their chosen subject matter in Session #5 in front of a guest audience, using presentation media and live blackboard drawing.
Readings will be based primarily from Web-based research, link sharing, and online videos. No textbooks will be used for this Group Tutorial, but students may refer to and quote from published book sources.
Session #1: OUR ECONOMIC LIVES
Part I: Visualizing our economic system
• Collaborative drawing exercise
• Comparative social systems
Part II: Occupy Wall Street
• Slide Show
Part III: Cause Mapping
• Introduction and Exercises
• Reflective Essay
• OWS Research and Problem Bucketing
• Cause Mapping Exercises
Session #2: ANALYZING THE OCCUPY WALL STREET MOVEMENT
Part I: Students share their findings and observations from Assigment #1
• Collaborative drawing exercise
• Comparative social systems
Part II: Preliminary Cause Mapping Exercises
• Visualize high-level problem areas from OWS rhetoric
Part III: Individual Domain Selection
• Students will choose an area of focus to develop
• Research assumptions and claims
• Cause Mapping for area of focus
Session #3: FILLING IN KNOWLEDGE GAPS and EVIDENCE GATHERING
Part I: Q&A for Gong; discuss knowledge gaps
Part II: Students real-time blackboard drawing with class input
• Preliminary Framework for Session 5 Presentation
• Assemble evidence to support claims and assertions
• Begin Presentation Development
Session #4: DEVELOPING and POSITIONING SOLUTIONS
Part I: The Solution Map
Part II: Preliminary Cause Mapping to Solution Mapping Exercises
• Solution Maps exercises
• Initial translation of individual domain Cause Map to Solution Map
Session #5: REAL-TIME SYNTHESIS
Part I: Moving from Cause Maps to Solution Maps; Class collaboration and discussion
Part II: Individual Presentations of Cause Maps and Solution Maps to Guest Critics
Part III: Student Evaluations
This was the second course I taught at Bennington College. I had one of the highest enrollments for any individual course in the history of the college :)
From the "Hedge Fund" course syllabus:
"This module will be a 6-session class simulation of running a hedge fund, from trading stocks and other investment instruments, to research analysis, risk management, and financial information technologies. The objective of this module is to teach students about financial markets, corporations, and industry sectors, all from the standpoint of the role these play in our global economy.
Students will be asked to choose industrial sectors to concentrate in, play roles as analysts or traders, and we will be reading from the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The New York Times, and other daily sources to inform our hedge funds’ priorities, risk management philosophy, and daily trading activities. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the role of markets in society, how financial markets function, introductory investment knowledge, and financial data literacy, all in a fun and engaging simulation environment using a $1 million virtual firm capital portfolio and trading simulation software using real market data.
Students interested in learning how our world’s financial markets work and how they may relate to your plans are encouraged to enroll.
This module is being taught by Gong Szeto, CAPA Fellow, who worked as the Director of Product Development at Chicago-based PEAK6 Investments, LP (www.peak6.com), a $2 billion equity options trading firm and hedge fund. Gong has previously consulted for Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and JP Morgan. At PEAK6, he designed the retail options trading brokerage Optionshouse.com,
Cerrio is a technology startup who is attempting to accelerate real-time data application development by making their entire workspace a simple visual drag-and-drop experience for developers new to cloud-based complex event processing. My assignment was to take their alpha workspace design, which was prototyped using .NET GUI frameworks, and translate it to a browser-based HTML5 environment using all the latest user affordances in an interactive app-building environment. One critical feature of this workspace is expressing the real-time nature of the data being connected together, as well as the data flow inputs and outputs. Not unlike building the plumbing infrastructure in your home while the water is running at full pressure.
HUMINT, GEOINT, MASINT, OSINT, SIGINT, TECHINT, FININT.
This is a list of intelligence gathering disciplines. One segment of my client base deals with geopolitical risk as it relates to national security, foreign policy, disaster preparedness, and humanitarian crisis vulnerability assessment. The work that I do seeks to find new ways of synthesizing a growing number of intelligence data streams into a coherent and actionable framework. The mosaic shown here are fragments of exploratory work that deals with the constantly changing data streams of the intelligence gathering methods listed above.
View on Slideshare
Write up on the the Aspen Design Summit "Mayo Clinic and Rural Health Delivery" here.
My esteemed teammates included:
Moderator: Allan Chochinov, Editor, Core 77
Recorder: Jaan Elias, Director of Case Research, Yale School of Management
Maggie Breslin, Senior Designer/Researcher, SPARC Design Studio, Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation
Tim Brown, CEO, President, IDEO
Henry King, Global Account Manager, Doblin/Monitor
Carol McCall, Chief Innovation Officer, Tnezing Health, a subsidiary of Vanguard Health Systems
Margeigh Novotny, Vice President, Strategy and Experience, MOTO Development Group
Jay Parkinson, Pediatrician; Co-Founder, Hello Health
Barbara Spurrier, Administrative Director, Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation
Helen Walters, Editor, Innovation and Design, BusinessWeek
Telehealth, the practice of installing videoconferencing-based technologies in remote areas, is part of a large investment initiative with the University of New Mexico Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research. New Mexico, a relatively poor state, has a sizable pueblo and tribal population, and has trouble providing appropriate levels of diagnostic health care due to long distances between tribal lands and medical centers generally located in high population areas. In conjunction with the Santa Fe Innovation Park, a visualization was created to illustrate relative travel distances to health care infrastructure in New Mexico as well as test the tele health remote locations to see if there was a optimal distribution throughout the state. In addition, this visualization indicates statistics in the major "health regions" in the state to indicate demographic and comparative health statistics, leading to an obvious conclusion that the wealthier areas tend to be more dense with better healthcare infrastructure, with fewer cases of chronic causes of death. The visualization also indicates "healthcare deserts", regions where the travel distance to quality food and healthcare exceeds 100 miles, and are ripe sites for remote telehealth facilities.
I gave a one day workshop on "The Power of Infographics" to a non-design audience during the CAPA opening weekend. Workshop participants included students, faculty, and visitors (including a well-known investment banker, the CEO of a major pharmaceuticals company, a wellness TV personality, and one of the top corporate bankruptcy attorneys in the United States). I lectured briefly on the history of infographics and how they help us understand complex issues, and concluded with an afternoon exercise in redesigning a prominent lobby menu at McDonald's. I think everyone had a lot of fun with the exercise. The ideas ranged from hilarious to "could-be-implemented-today". I had a blast.
My workshop deck here on slideshare.
Part of my work deals very specifically with understanding the types of information necessary to visualize vulnerability and crisis situations around the globe. Crisis mapping is a relatively new discipline, born of the many open source mapping technologies only available in the past 5 years. There are a number of key actors involved in the deployment of crisis maps, from developers to workers on the ground, from intelligence agencies to NGO's, from government agencies to all-volunteer groups, who all have a vested interest in generating and sharing critical data and information to "crisis remedy teams". The work I focus on specifically is how to merge heterogeneous streams of intelligence and analysis that do not have a ready-for-prime-time form (incomplete datasets, fragmented data, non-data intensive content that is not easily merged with data-intensive streams) but are nonetheless critical to optimal decisionmaking and deployment of remedy resources.
You never have all the information you need to make the best decisions, and the work I do attempts to reduce decision-fatigue by effectively inventorying and synthesizing incomplete datasets by rethinking the contextual frameworks and visual grammars by which these datasets are represented.
This was a talk I gave at Bennington College that introduced to the faculty and student body who I was and what made me tick. In it, I talk a little about some of my recent work, as well as introduce the Insight-Decision-Action design model as it applied to interface design, as well as more general domains...like life.
Seeing how I was one of the very first fellows in a very new (and at the time) relatively undefined CAPA initiative, the very first Q&A question I got, and from a student, was "So what the hell is a CAPA Fellow and what are you doing here?" Totally unprepared and on the spot, I scanned the room and made eye contact with Liz Coleman, who introduced me and was sitting off to the side in the audience. She simply stared at me, with nary a cue. Caught completely off guard, my unprepared response to this loaded question was, "Well, we'll see." And that was that.
Here are my slides at slideshare.
"Knowledge Ecosystems" was the first course I taught at Bennington College as a CAPA Fellow.
From the course syllabus:
"How can you harness the Internet to create a personal “knowledge ecosystem” that augments and extends your intellectual and creative investigations with the outer world? While we have witnessed the explosive growth of the Internet over the past decade, the Internet is not a single static thing. Rather, it is an evolving accumulation of technologies that have evolved to synthesize vast stores of information, sophisticated and dynamic user-to-system interactions, and large-scale multi-dimensional social engagement, all with enduring memory.
This module will delve into the state-of-the art in Internet information and knowledge-sharing technologies, and students will co-create a working platform that can be used during their time at Bennington and beyond."
Appfog is a cloud-based hosting service founded in Portland, OR, by tech entrepreneur Lucas Carlson. Appfog needed a way to communicate the trends happening in the Cloud space and how that would affect their core customer segments, developers of new online applications and enterprise customers seeking to harness the benefits of moving their IT operations into the Cloud. It began with a sketch by Carlson, which evolved into an infographic explaining the evolution of Cloud services in terms of the logical progression of infrastructure (IaaS), software (SaaS), and platform (PaaS), and how this progression is leading to pronounced levels of development efficiency because services like Appfog literally take the time-consuming overhead of IT maintenance out of the development picture.
This infographic was picked up by GigaOM earlier this year in "Why 2013 is the year of 'NoOps' for programmers [Infographic]"
OptionsHouse is a retail equity options trading brokerage incubated and launched by PEAK6. I was one of the original launch team members (I was employee #1), and I served as Director of Product Design since its inception, with only a staff of one information architect at my side. OptionsHouse was where I cut my teeth in the complex world of global finance and the design of financial derivatives trading systems, and since this experience I have never looked back. The Insight-Decision-Action design methodology I have employed throughout my career had never been put to the test like this. Nothing this big. Nothing this complex.
The OptionsHouse platform had to deal with ~9,000 stock symbols, ~180,000 options symbols, constantly updating price information, multipliers of 3x to 5x of data analytic overlays, 40K+ active trader clients, hundreds of millions of dollars of trade transactions per day, integration of multiple third party APIs and data feeds, branding and marketing a new challenger in a crowded field of 800 lb. gorillas, development of a fully staffed customer service administration and issue escalation system, converting design and code-base to private label institutional clients, inventing new features that leveraged PEAK6's proprietary options trading expertise and market making liquidity, developing (at the time) the world's most sophisticated browser-based AJAX application...all while reinventing and streamlining the trading workflow for retail clients of varying levels of sophistication, from high-volume technical day traders to conservative hedge traders looking to use options as insurance against other big bets in the market. And I had never traded a thing in my life before this project. :)
OptionsHouse has been awarded 4-5 stars every consecutive year by industry benchmark Barron's for "Best in Options Trading" and "Best in Usability" since its launch in 2005.
I continue to consult for OptionsHouse and other PEAK6 business units on various retail and proprietary trading and risk management related initiatives.
Bloomberg/Businessweek article on my experience designing OptionsHouse.
YOD (yourowndemocracy.org) was a conceptual online application that sought to bring (near) real-time voter sentiment on political issues to the fore as a way to inform the voters where the public debate stood on proposed legislation. It was conceived to be used as a way for individuals to track and follow issues that were important to them, as well as share political activity within their social network. YOD also involved a voting mechanism allowed you to arbitrage individual sentiment strength across multiple issue areas, reflecting the same sentiment plasticity found in fluctuating stock market pricing based on buy/sell transaction volume.
YOD was a finalist in the 2009 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.
One of the first projects I did coming out of a multi-year sabbatical was to design the product experience for OneTrueFan's website gamification toolbar. This included packing a ton of agile technology and functionality into a VERY small footprint that had to enhance a website visitor's page experience without distraction, and to provide website publishers an easy way to create content-based communities by acknowledging and rewarding "fans" to their website properties. On the other side of the coin was the publisher's analytics dashboard which made it easy to connect with fans and to monitor their behaviors, sharing, and chatter trends.
Shortly after we rolled out all these new feature sets, OneTrueFan was acquired by BigDoor.
In 2010, Janina Pawlowski and I collaborated on designing and developing an online platform that streamlined the way citizens and their representatives could interface one another on the growing number of legislative bills on a federal, state, and local level, a profound information processing problem, if there ever was one. Hundreds of issue categories, numerous bills within each category that had to be parsed, analyzed and then determined if there is enough public support behind them, and then multiplying all that times the number of bills that are in play at the federal, state, and local levels—all adding up to cognitive overload, and (in my opinion) a major factor in voter apathy. There's just too much going on at any one time, and to determine whether or not a piece of legislation actually affects someone's life (or someone's community or tribe) in any meaningful way generally requires relying on the mainstream media interface to inform public opinion. This work attempted to disintermediate the problematic MSM middleman and to provide a direct connection between citizen and representative on key legislation.
When state-of-the-art doesn't cut it, you have to roll your own. This financial services client wanted infinite flexibility in finding good trade ideas in the marketplace, but hit the wall on a number of fronts: all existing search tools they had at their disposal had serious limitations, could not deal with multiple and simultaneous data feeds well, and additional steps had to taken to reconcile search returns (even with powerful booleans) with variable trader risk limits and risk violation settings that change on a daily basis.
The solution to these many thorny site-specific problems was to invent a new query language tailored specifically to the needs of high-volume derivatives traders. However, traders are busy people, and are of varying levels of technological sophistication, and few have time to learn the ins and out of a LISP-based query language, from syntax, grammars, logic, and industry and firm-specific variables and constants. A visual drag and drop graphical user interface had to be developed on top of this new language, and that's where I came in. We looked at MIT's Scratch as a starting point, and then developed it into a new trading framework that (from what I hear) has increased a trader's "vetted" trade volume nearly 1000%. Trading workflow has changed dramatically. Traders are no longer monitoring incremental price ticks or bid-ask spreads, nor are they manually working their 1000's of orders during the day. This new programming language essentially allows them to build human-computer parametric trade algorithms on the fly, constructing smart queries that are essentially based on their pre-/intra- market intuitions and insights. It's incredibly trader-specific.
Drag, drop, generate, auto-execute, auto-hedge, get a cup of coffee, watch a little Bloomberg.
After I resigned my post at PEAK6 in 2009 to go on sabbatical, the talented team at OptionsHouse embarked on an ambitious overhaul of their trading technology subsystems, rearchitecting a number of critical engineering areas that improved system performance many-fold. It was also an opportunity to apply the many lessons learned from customers about how to improve the overall trading experience. I was not part of this OptionsHouse 2.0 initiative, but was later brought in to radically rethink how to incorporate context sensitive risk signals to customers about the status of their portfolios and trades. The challenge was that the 2.0 infrastructure was pretty far along and whatever I came up with had to work with that grain. I proposed a number of new standalone apps as part of an easy-to-understand "risk suite" that was de-coupled from the rest of the OptionsHouse suite, but had certain color-coded risk signals that would be infused in key parts of the trading experience. This project also included the development of proprietary risk calculation algorithms that looked at hundreds of market factors and variables, reconciling them with a customer's existing and intended positions. The output from these algorithmic calculations became the basis for all the risk signatures incorporated into the new risk-aware OptionsHouse 2.0 trading platform.
3D visualizations of market risk whose variables are user-definable are in the works as part of this new suite using some pretty trick HTML5 technologies that simply did not exist during my tenure over OptionsHouse 1.0. Look to see updates to this page when those features roll out.
One of the things I worked on during my tenure at PEAK6 was to facilitate the launch of a new website property called "WeSeed". WeSeed sought to completely rethink the way newbie investors could learn about the stock market by creating a virtual online trading platform that was user-friendly, based on the very same market data feeds that OptionsHouse used, but organizing it in a way that aligned with how consumers think about the products they consumed. The metaphors we used were more retail consumption-oriented than institutional investor-oriented, and WeSeed made buying stocks as familiar as adding a product to a shopping cart. Industry sectors were called "passion areas", as WeSeed felt that people were more apt to invest in companies whose products they were already familiar with. I designed a pre-launch version of WeSeed, working out the translation of the OptionsHouse virtual trading engine into an accessible retail user experience, and worked with the educational and marketing arms of WeSeed to develop the brand and marketing personality and voice.
One of the more interesting ventures PEAK6 incubated while I was there was launching a new options trading advisory complete with on-the-floor reporting of market activity over live and archived web video, interviews with notable fund managers and traders, and value-added subscription-based advisory services. My task was to develop a coherent customer experience that integrated ONN's many properties and assets.
This blast from the past is a presentation that my design firm i/o 360 digital design produced for Dow Jones & Company, who was an early client during the dotcom boom. I introduced the Insight-Decision-Action framework as a way for the Wall Street Journal to leverage its journalism into new value-added applications for its subscriber base, by allowing new "action points" to make themselves visible to the reader as they browse the day's financial news. It was, in effect, a proposal to turn WSJ into a personal portfolio management tool, using WSJ's reporting as "insights" that could facilitate efficient portfolio and risk management "actions".
It was the thinking behind this short presentation that laid the groundwork for so much of my work in the decade that followed.