In our industry, those who are well-trained in the principles and strategy of design (no, I don’t think I fall under that category) put much emphasis on the potentially powerful effect that a good design can have.
Design that is arbitrary and unplanned might succeed simply because of its ease of use, or its familiarity. But design that is well thought out and planned with specific goals in mind has the potential to cause users or customers to make decisions that they might not normally make.
Yes, I suppose this is a form of manipulation and some people might not agree with it. But I think as long as you stay within certain boundaries, manipulation through design doesn’t cross any lines, and it’s really just a tool at the disposal of the website/owner/designer.
Demonstrating Persuasion Through Design
To illustrate the potential power of design, take a look at the image shown below. I’ll be honest here. I can’t give proper credit to who created this image, because I copied it from one of those cheesy online advertisements that makes you go through a quiz and then asks for your cell phone number in order to text you the results (and evidently you can find this image on many websites, so I don’t think it’s a big deal).
I don’t remember what the ad was, what website I found it on, or anything else about it (goes to show how pointless the ad really was). But here it is:
Which Square is Darker? A or B?
The answer, as you’ve probably figured out, even without pixel sampling, is neither. Square A and square B are exactly the same color. (NOTE: Because of JPEG compression, and the fact that I had no control over the original image, the squares may not be pixel for pixel matches, but generally speaking the color of square A matches that of square B.)
How Can This Technique Be Used?
There are probably some things at work here that I don’t fully understand, but the basic reason that that square A looks darker than square B is contrast. The surrounding squares create the illusion that a square is darker/lighter. There’s also the shadow cast by the green cylinder that factors into the visual.
It’s obvious (at least to me) just from this simple example, that the way something is designed has potential to have a strong effect on the decisions people make. The snap decision of the average person looking at that visual is “A is darker”.
In the case of this pointless image (and the pointless ad from which it came), the results are trivial. But the potential encapsulated within the results of that snap decision could be enormous if harnessed through a vigorous marketing campaign for a quality service or product.
What do you think? Is manipulation through design a good thing? Is it possible that “fooling” the eyes in this way could be viewed as unethical? Or is that just part of how the human brain and its perceptions work, and we should just deal with it?