Experience Design | Manipulation | Perversion

I’ve been thinking about morality and manipulation since class today especially as it pertains to experience design. I get the impression that when we talk about manipulation we generally do so with an implied value judgment: manipulation = bad.

But when we were talking today about theme parks and movies, aren’t we talking about places people want to be (at least in part) manipulated? Maybe this isn’t a conscious thought. Maybe we don’t even think about going to theme parks or movies in terms of manipulation. But upon self-reflection, manipulation of my perceptions and emotions and even my values (consider today’s example of Dexter…rooting for a serial killer) is in large part why I watch movies and why I go to theme parks.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that manipulation is one-sided. It’s not just something that happens to me. It’s something I have to invite even if I don’t acknowledge the invitation. It’s a bit perverse, I suppose. So maybe thinking about manipulation re: experience in terms of a perversion would prove fruitful.

Barnard gets into psychoanalysis in his book, so I think I’ll invoke Freud. In particular, his explication of sadism and masochism in the Three Essays on Sexuality.

I want to draw a parallel between sado-masochism and my pursuing a (manipulative) experience in order to attain consummation.

Freud writes, “…the most remarkable feature about this perversion is that its active and passive forms are habitually found to occur together in the same individual…A sadist is always at the same time a masochist…” (25)

I see a clear parallel with the notion of manipulation (esp. in reference to theme parks and movies). I go to the movies and theme parks in order to be manipulated (masochism) but also to participate in the manipulation (sadism).

So, what does this all mean for designers? I suppose it depends on what kind of thing(s) we’re designing. But suppose there’s a tacit understanding that when we’re designing things for entertainments’ sake we’re going to be engaging in some form of manipulation and that even if our users don’t acknowledge it in these terms, they’re putting themselves in a position to be manipulated..


Freud, S. (2000). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. (p. 25). New York: Basic Books.