When designing a service for users, we're constantly trying to push them to do things. We're creating systems to get them motivated so they see the value they'll get out of the product. Perfectly done, users don't even feel like they are getting pushed because they truely see the value.

So is it really different from manipulating someone?

Manipulation is about to push someone to do something using some psychological technics. Perfectly done, this one doesn't even know he's getting manipulated. So at the end, he do the thing for itself because he found good reasons to do it (or no bad ones).

Actually, sometimes manipulating someone makes him doing something he wouldn't do otherwise. For example, nod your head while talking to someone and chances are he'll do the same and finally agree with what your saying (sorry, can't retrieve the source). Maybe he wouldn't in a different situation. While this is bad, is it really different from motivating someone ?

Let's say someone has to lose weight but he don't want to make sport. His parents offer him 10$ everytime he goes biking. At the end he wants this money so he goes but not for its own sake. Did him get motivated or manipulated ?

I know money is not the best factor of motivation, this is just an easy to understand example.

Here is the question : Would it be relevant to learn/understand how manipulation works as UX Designers ? Would it makes us better ?


The difference between manipulation and motivation

Manipulation is thinking of a reason others will want to do something, and then convincing them of your correctness.

Motivation is genuinely seeking out the wants, needs, and desires of the other party, and then working with the other party to find solutions that meet your needs - and theirs.

As designers I feel like we're sometimes convincing people of the product's correctness so, according to this article, we're manipulating people, right ?

Motivate, Don’t Manipulate

Manipulation is getting someone to do something for your benefit that he/she does not want to do regardless of the benefit to him/her.

Motivation is getting some to do something for your benefit that he/she does want to do which is also beneficial to him/her.

This article seems to associate manipulation to what I would call "dishonest manipulation" (unless the manipulated person truely want to do the thing at the end).

Wikipedia's definition of Psychological Manipulation

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. (...) Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to persuade patients to change unhealthy habits.

This controversed page (see source) state that manipulation can't be honnest unless it's about social influence or persuasion. So, there is some aspects that are worth learning in manipulation !

Wikipedia's definition of Motivation

Motivation is the driving force that causes the flux from desire to will in life.

It seems to be about a "physical/real" desire.


Why this question ?

Manipulation is commonly seen as a bad thing so we don't want to manipulate users and we don't even want to learn how to do it. But what if some aspects of psychological manipulation was great and respectfull tools ?

  • 1
    I'm not entirely clear of the question here. are you asking if it's OK to manipulate users into doing something? From a sales standpoint? Maybe. From a UX standpoint, I can't think of a time it'd ever be OK. I think it'd usually fall into the dark patterns concept: darkpatterns.org
    – DA01
    Apr 1, 2014 at 6:40
  • It would help if you gave an example of "honest manipulation". Manipulation implies trying to get the user to do something they wouldn't normally, like buying sweets by putting them next to the checkout, or even putting expensive items at eye-level and cheap items at floor-level in order that they buy something they didn't originally intend to (I used to work in retail!) "Honest manipulation" is almost an oxymoron. What do you think is "honest" about manipulation? Apr 1, 2014 at 6:42
  • I edited my question to make it clearer. Isn't some aspects of manipulation right ? Is the whole principle a bad thing ? Wouldn't the understanding of manipulation makes us better UX Designers ? Thanks for the link, interesting and sadly funny how people can be wicked.
    – Gabin
    Apr 1, 2014 at 8:58

1 Answer 1


There are a lot of discussions on-going about persuasive design.

Humans interact with each other, regardless the channel of communication. Computer's interface is just one of these channels as more and more people communicate their ideas through the interface.

As any communication, it could be used for the better or the worse, and you develop this point quite well in your question.

Obviously, learning how to communicate ideas through the interface, learning how people react and can be manipulated, what they like and don't, etc. will help you to communicate better.

And as long as you have some ethics and you don't use your skills to mess with people (which will turn probably bad for you in the end anyway), I see no reason why you should not learn these things in this profession.

I think this expertise is really a nice plus, this could even be the center of the profession, or what differentiate the good and the bad UX Designer, especially if you're trying to sell things, make user subscribe to your site, or even if you want your user base to accept the changes you made (most user don't like the changes).

This makes me think about some nice book that will show you more than you can imagine about human behaviour: Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, HarperCollins,‎ 2008

  • Thanks for your answer, really interesting and I'm gonna take a look at this book. You made me think about security experts who are great hackers also, right ? They learn hacking so they can protect their company. Why wouldn't we do the same ? As you said, I'm sure there is lots of interesting things to know about manipulation/persuasion as UX Designers.
    – Gabin
    Apr 2, 2014 at 9:14

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