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manipulative design

Manipulative design is an approach to creating user interfaces that are designed to influence or trick users into taking particular actions that they might not take otherwise.

 UI (user interface) designers and those that manage them can have a marked affect on how easy an interface is for users to grasp. However, their understanding of how to communicate and show options can also be applied to for deceptive purposes. The same psychological principles applied to make legible interfaces that are easily seen and intuitively used can be adapted for less scrupulous ends.

Some of the tendencies of an individual reading text or viewing images can be exploited to generate behavior in a user or influence them make an unintended choice. These choices may be affected by exploitation of attention span, visual interference, low contrast or fine print, bait-and-switch and other manipulative elements of UI design often called dark patterns. Expectations -- such as the idea that an X at the top of a window will close it – can be exploited by associating non-standard behaviors with familiar features.

Microsoft used that particular trick in its push for Windows 10 upgrades through its GWX (get Windows 10) app. Users were presented with a popup window whose most prominent options were "Upgrade now" and "Okay." There was a much less visible option to change the schedule or cancel the upgrade, and clicking on the X in the top-right corner was interpreted as consent rather than just closing the window.

The practice of coercive design can catch some users unaware and increase profits by way of intended charges incurred to the customer. The practice may risk customer retention, however, perhaps losing them to a competitor permanently. This deceptive design trend is also being protested by responsible and ethical UI designers.

This was last updated in June 2016

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