How to manipulate people, but in a good way



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As designers and makers, we have the power to change people’s behavior. But what’s the right way to use this power? How can you use product psychology to persuade people ethically?

We sat down for a DesignTalk with Nir Eyal, the bestselling author of the number-one ranked book on product design, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. Nir shared his new research into how to persuade people for good.

Watch Nir’s full talk below, or read on for our short recap.


Manipulation is everywhere

Nir says you—yes you—are a manipulator, both personally and professionally.

In fact, we are all manipulators—parents influencing children or vice-versa, boss and employee, speaker and listener. Even the things you wear manipulate people’s opinions about you.

Looking at the dictionary definition of manipulate—to handle or control in a skillful manner or to control or influence a person or situation—we can better grasp that it’s an integral part of our daily life.

“Commerce is just the business of manipulation.”

A line in the sand

Though it has a negative connotation, manipulation isn’t all bad. The mutual manipulation described above is what helps us get what we want as individuals. On a larger scale, Nir made the case that commerce is just the business of manipulation.

But manipulation has 2 sides. Our goal, as designers, is to understand how to use effective—but ethical—manipulation.

Nir recommends you ask yourself and your company, “What won’t we do?” The line in the sand shouldn’t merely be the legal one. After all, design patterns could be technically and currently legal while still being awful for business. They can ruin your brand, cause customers and employees to slip away, and even become illegal once laws catch up to technology.

“Persuasion + design = goodness.”

The trick is to dissect manipulation into 2 parts: persuasion and coercion. Persuasion is getting people to do things that they want to do. Coercion is getting people to do things that they don’t want to do. To break it down: Persuasion + design = goodness.

More on manipulation

To learn more about what specifically we can do to find the line between persuasion and coercion, I encourage you to watch the recording above!

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Margaret Kelsey
Margaret Kelsey leads content marketing at Appcues. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.

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