Tristan Harris was Google's "Design Ethicist" where he studied how design choices directly affect people's behavior in conscious and unconscious ways. He's also a practicing magician! As he says, "Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people's perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it." Over at Medium, Harris wrote a fascinating post about persuasive technology and how design can "exploit our minds' weaknesses." From Medium:
Western Culture is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom. Millions of us fiercely defend our right to make "free" choices, while we ignore how those choices are manipulated upstream by menus we didn't question in the first place.
This is exactly what magicians do. They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can't emphasize enough how deep this insight is.
When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:
• "what's not on the menu?"
• "why am I being given these options and not others?"
• "do I know the menu provider's goals?"
• "is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?" (e.g. an overwhelmingly array of toothpastes)
Harris's piece supports the essay that my Institute for the Future colleagues Marina Gorbis and Devin Fidler recently posted about the incredibly high stakes of on-demand platform design: "Design It Like Our Livelihoods Depend on It" (WTF?)