Practical and intuitive user experiences are central to any design. As a UX designer, you must create user interfaces that allow users to easily navigate through the information. But the need for meeting the growth and sales metrics often overpowers the need to create user-friendly interfaces. This results in design practices like dark patterns or dark UX.
Another important aspect of UX patterns is using positive patterns, such as persuasion. Positive patterns encourage consumers to take actions that will benefit the company. Some examples of persuasive patterns include:
- Creating a sense of scarcity
- Utilizing social evidence to magnify trustworthiness
- Rewarding consumers to build a sense of success
Dark UX is somewhat the opposite. Dark patterns push users to make decisions that infringe on their best interests.
In this blog, we will be answering the following questions:
- Firstly, what are dark patterns
- Secondly, what are some dark patterns examples
- Lastly, why should designers avoid using dark UX?
What are Dark Patterns in UX?
Dark patterns are user interface design patterns that intentionally manipulate or deceive users into taking actions they might not otherwise choose to take. They are typically used to benefit the business or organization behind the website or application, rather than the user.
Dark patterns can be defined as methods that are used to influence and divert a user into doing a forced action that they do not want to do. Companies create these user interfaces to persuade users to make decisions or take activities they wouldn’t otherwise. For this reason, they are also known as manipulative designs or black patterns. The manipulative nature is characteristic of dark patterns in UX.
Dark patterns in UX can range from minor omissions to explicit falsehoods. It is a deceptive practice, serving to undermine customers’ objectives and wasting time or money they didn’t want to spend.
Gated content is one of the common examples of dark patterns. It prevents you from accessing a website since signing up is the only way to go.
Types of Dark Patterns in UX
Bait and Switch
Bait and switch are one of the most exploited examples of dark patterns. It is a common marketing strategy used by firms to increase click-through rates. When false data or information is presented, it refers to a user’s interest. When a user expresses interest and proceeds to the next step by clicking, the content or data changes completely.
In 2016, when consumers clicked the “X” button on a pop-up requesting them to update to Windows 10, they were subjected to a bait-and-switch. Rather than closing the pop-up as planned, clicking the “X” initiated the upgrade. Users performed what they believed they should get rid of the pop-up because “X” had previously been associated with “close.”
Hidden costs are yet another dark pattern adopted by many companies. It involves advertising a specific price for a product and then hiking the price (by adding taxes or shipping) after the user proceeds to check out.
If you are someone who uses online streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, or DisneyPlus, chances are you have been a victim of forced continuity.
Force Continuity as a dark UX forces users to add credit card details or email to continue to the website or app. The trap here? The users cannot skip this step by any chance. Furthermore, these platforms or apps do not inform the users about the ending free trial. This way, they bill the users without alarming them.
Confirm shaming was a popular dark UX practice back a year or two. The idea was to persuade the user to do something by making the alternative option sound unappealing. This may include providing email addresses or signing up. In such dark patterns UX, the pop-up tries to manipulate and trick the user’s mind.
Dark patterns in design involve disguising the ads as part of the content the user is currently reading. The goal of this dark UX design is to increase the probability of the user clicking on them.
Disguised Ads are a popular form of dark UI design patterns for websites. For instance, You may click on the call-to-action button like “Start Downloading” only to realize that the button has redirected you to some other page or site.
Roach Motel’s dark patterns are difficult to spot. As the name suggests, it lures you into signing up or subscribing in easy steps but the exit is difficult. Examples of UI dark patterns include using social media like Facebook and Instagram. You can sign up for these social media accounts by simply inputting your details. However, to figure out how to deactivate your account is challenging.
One of the commonly used dark patterns for social media platforms is friend spam. The platform asks you to share your contacts list in the pretense of helping you connect better. However, the app accesses your contact’s data and spams them with messages as named by the newly registered user.
One dark pattern example was when LinkedIn got into trouble for deceiving its users by inviting them to import their contact list from their webmail accounts while the onboarding process. Later, LinkedIn sent emails to the contacts on the new user’s account.
Privacy zuckering is when the user approves of something without acknowledging the full extent of their consent. The term was coined after the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. During the initial time of the social media giant, it didn’t allow the users to have complete control over the privacy of their information. It was difficult for users to locate and change the privacy settings. Moreover, the app coerced users into accepting certain privacy policies.
One of the examples was Whatsapp, asking for data privacy permissions without showcasing the complete privacy policies. The UX writing is confusing when you are about to choose an option between ‘agree’ or ‘ask me later’. In a way, you are never getting rid of the option.
Mostly, the users unknowingly used to share the information of their contacts list with the social platforms. This helped the platforms to create a network of people they could target. Which is not necessarily evil but sure is dubious.
Asking more than intended
If you have filled forms under the impression that it is to know you better, chances are you were a victim of dark UX. Asking more than intended involves asking the users for more personal information, more than they intend to reveal.
This black pattern, like other deceptive design patterns, employs design to draw your attention to one aspect in the expectation that you’ll ignore something else.
If you’re a member of Amazon Prime and wish to cancel your subscription, for instance, the platform redirects you to a page that highlights graphics and information about all of the Prime perks. In this process, you could overlook the little, basic boxes at the top of the page that allows you to update or cancel your plan.
Fear is a powerful weapon that many people misuse to their advantage. Not so surprisingly, it also happens to be one of the dark patterns widely adopted by brands and companies.
They tell users to not opt out of a subscription or feature option in these sorts of dark design patterns since it may lead to undesirable effects. Facebook, for example, has “intrusive default settings” and “misleading wordings.”
One dark pattern examples are Facebook’s warning to users not to disable the “facial recognition” capability since it may result in some other user imitating them.
Have you placed an order, believing you will not be able to buy this item later because only a few are left in stock? If yes, you are a victim of Triggering FOMO, a dark pattern UX design. FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Dark UX patterns like this involve creating a sense of urgency by telling the users that either the time is running out or only a few items are left in stock.
You can see examples of dark patterns of Triggering FOMO on almost every eCommerce website. They do so to increase the order volumes, thereby increasing sales.
Alternatives for Dark Patterns
|Hidden Cost||Always display the total costs to your users. You can choose to directly show the final price or display a breakdown. Most of them are willing to pay the additional costs and will appreciate your transparency.|
|Forced Continuity||Users don’t appreciate being told what to do. Let them be the ones to decide if they want to share the asked information or not. Respect their choices and privacy.|
|Confirm shaming||Use colors to draw attention to the CTAs instead of using manipulative copy. Use copy that promotes positive decision-making and allows users to choose the best option for themselves.|
|Roach Motel||A user that wants to deactivate or leave the platform will do so anyway. Why not let them do this without any hassle after offering them a retention package? This way you still have a chance at persuading them to stay while allowing them to drive the decision.|
|Disguised Ads||Disguising your users will get you nowhere in the long term. Instead, show these ads clearly. This way the users know your goal behind the ads. Also, it becomes easier for genuinely interested users to identify the ads.|
|Misdirection||You can easily turn into a positive design by not mixing up responses and restructuring the interface that is clear and concise.|
|Triggering Fear||Instead of choosing fear to influence user decisions, you can use clear copy to convey the message and allow users to make their own decisions.|
|Triggering FOMO||When you wish to use urgency scarcity to motivate users into making a fast purchase decision, use truthful and data-driven copy and avoid showcasing fake details.|
|Asking more than intended Privacy Zuckering Friend Spam||Be honest about what information you want. While you may not wish to tell them why the information is collected, you can always be clear about what you want.|
Dark patterns examples
The cost for the property in the listing is lesser and at the time of checkout, the cost of cleaning and service fee are included without prior knowledge.
There’s no option for skipping the ‘sign-in’ and to continue the users will compulsorily have to add their information.
The copy ‘No thanks, I like to make bad choices’ is confirm shaming.
Can you locate the ‘unsubscribe’ option? No? We bet it took you a full minute, well it is in grey color, almost blending into the background.
Many websites like Softpedia run ads as their source of revenue. However, the ads showcase a ‘Download now’ CTA, tricking users into clicking the button.
Why do companies use Dark Patterns?
Dark patterns, also known as black patterns, are a popular choice of UX patterns amongst companies and brands. They use these super-optimized techniques to lure their visitors or users into acting in a manner that fulfills their wishes.
One of the reasons why most companies indulge in dark patterns UX is because such design practices make it easier to meet short-term metrics. Another reason why companies use dark patterns in UX is to increase clicks, engagement, and profits.
Often these UX design patterns are an easy solution, especially when they have to present their bosses with a list of individuals who have opted-in for marketing emails or something similar.
Why should designers avoid Dark Patterns?
The reasons to avoid dark patterns in design are many. The idea of using dark UX in UX design patterns is almost irresistible but companies must avoid using dark patterns in design.
One of the strongest reasons to avoid dark patterns in UX design patterns is its manipulative nature. Companies exploit human psychology with the sole intention of encouraging users to act outside their best interests. The purpose is to drive individuals to act for the company’s purpose.
Some other reasons are:
Poor Customer Experience
Users and visitors have become aware of the faulty practice with changing trends. This includes knowing the characteristics of a bad design and dark pattern. So they appreciate brands that are straightforward, honest, and transparent in their approach.
The use of dark patterns will account for a bad design. This bad design is enough to silently drive your visitor away, thereby affecting your customer loyalty.
High Rate of Abandonments
The UX designer’s job is to use good patterns to create an efficient user interface. The goal is to allow visitors and customers to fulfil their intended activity seamlessly with minimal effort. Dark patterns are manipulative practices that will drive your visitors away. As soon as they realize that you are tricking them to behave out of their interest, they will stop interacting with your products.
Lack of trust
Most dark pattern designs require you to deceive your customers. If you continue to behave in a way that does not serve your customer’s interests, you will lose their attention. Soon they will be out finding another website, app, platform, or product.
Over time, the continuous deception will affect their trust and loyalty to you. Your customers will happily choose your competitors if you continue these uncalled-for practices.
Countries like California and US have penalized the use of dark patterns. In California, businesses that continue to utilize dark patterns on their websites will be given a 30-day chance to update their website design or face further sanctions like a civil penalty.
Damages brand image
Bad word spreads like wildfire. Once your users start to point out the bad design and unethical practices, others will take note of it. This will result in declining sales and lower engagement rates.
How designers can avoid Dark Patterns?
Designers are the ones who truly understand what is a dark pattern and how can it affect the user. As such, it is your responsibility, as a designer, to convey your understanding of a dark pattern and bad design to your clients.
Designers can ask themselves the following questions to find out how to avoid using dark patterns, saving themselves from creating a bad design.
- Is what I am doing unethical?
- Can the user seamlessly navigate through the design?
- Will I be happy to use this design?
- Is this design going to hurt my client’s brand image?
Why Dark Patterns are unethical?
Dark patterns are unethical because they are not always in users’ best interest. Coercing users to share access to their information or confusing them while taking actions or putting bad navigation to delay or repulse them from unsubscribing or deleting their accounts is not the right way.
For example, When a client/business wishes to make it difficult or confusing for users to unsubscribe or decline any permissions they may not be aware of the side effects of that. It causes user frustration. It doesn’t seem like a big issue on the outside. But on the inside, you are taking away the power to make their own decisions for users.
As a designer, you are aware of the downfalls caused by dark user interface patterns. You can help clients and businesses understand dark patterns and how it is an unwise decision to use them.
It is important to allow the users to make their own decisions. If you take away their power to make their own decisions then it is not ethical. That is not fair play. Businesses deceiving users is bad conduct. One, as a designer, a user, or a business should be well aware of what are dark patterns in UX and how to combat them. When you find any, there are platforms where you report them like consumer reports, access now, and the electronic frontier foundation.
In conclusion, dark patterns UX can quickly transform a good design into a bad design. A better way to reach out to your audience is to make use of good patterns. Good patterns will help you connect with your users, gain their trust, create a strong customer base, and enhance your brand image.
Users globally are becoming more aware of dark UX practices. As a result, it is only wise to stop using these dark patterns and switch to better alternatives! Give your users free will and allow them to make their own decisions. Assist them, not stop them.