Manipulate, verb

  1. Handle or control (a tool, mechanism, information, etc.) in a skilful manner.
  2. Control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously.
    1. Alter or present (data) so as to mislead.

At Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) the word ‘manipulation’ is used in various contexts. It could be used to describe the manipulation of material – including data and images – or of people. Originating from the Latin manipulare, to manipulate materials using the hands (manus), the term has a strong physical connotation and a connection to the idea of handicrafts. The manipulation of materials is a visible process, whereas the manipulation of people is often invisible. In this context, manipulation usually has a negative connotation, for example through the production of propaganda. It is also possible, however, that the manipulation of people can be seen as functioning in the service of a good cause. Often, people do not know that they are being manipulated – the process of manipulation is hidden. This type of manipulation has in mind the goal of imposing ideas or ideals upon others (propaganda) in order to gain control over a situation. When the practice of manipulation is transparent, however, manipulation could lead to an open conclusion and can serve a learning process. Designers can use manipulation to achieve various goals. It could be a way of letting people understand or experience something in a specific way – by means of storytelling or, for instance, by seducing people to do something. An often used term for this kind of stimulation of behavioural change is ‘nudging’. Examples of nudging are design interventions such as staircases or roundabouts, which are introduced in order to help stimulate healthy or safe behaviour. In this case manipulation is being used to teach something new, or to encourage us to act differently. As a design researcher, another use of manipulation might have the aim of arriving at new models of thinking. In this case, manipulation is directed toward an open conclusion aimed at encouraging the generation of new options. A designer might also try to manipulate his client into accepting his proposal. In such a case, manipulation is used in order to gain control.

The manipulation of data and images in the digital realm is an invisible process which we are aware of, but are unable to control. This manipulation can also be applied to objects, products or choices when they are being manipulated by algorithms or systems. In order to make the process transparent, hacking, can be a strategy for designers to make this form of manipulation visible.

DAE examples

  • Wouter Vastenou, De Afvalbank (The Rubbish Bench), Graduation project Public-Private, 2016

  • Erika Pino, Holes in the Cement, Graduation project Master of Information Design, 2016

  • Daukantė Subačiūtė, Marketed Collecting, Graduation project Master or Information Design, 2016


  • Bernays, E. L. (2004). Propaganda. New York: Ig Publishing. (First published in 1928 by Horace Liveright, New York).