Dark Patterns: Tricking Users By Design

Eoin Cooke

Intern

Have you ever found yourself clicking the wrong button on a website? Perhaps you spend hours looking for a way to click out of an ad? Or maybe you have a few accounts you haven’t been able to delete. Well, don’t worry. This isn’t because of your ability to navigate the website. Rather it is because the website was made with counterintuitive Design to trick the User. This is known as Dark Patterns Design.

Illustration demonstrating the concept of Dark Patterns.

What Are Dark Patterns?

Dark Patterns is a concept coined by Harry Brignull, a User Experience (UX) consultant who couldn’t bear to see unethical Designs being used to trick Users. People are starting to become more aware of these “unintentional” Designs that companies are using. Here are some common forms of Dark Patterns.

Roach Motel

Have you ever wanted to remove an online account but couldn’t find the simple delete button? Maybe you had to submit a form for doing so. Or maybe you had to go even further as to phoning the company itself. These are forms of “Roach Motels”. When companies make it very easy to get into a situation, but difficult to get out.

For example, Amazon leads the User down a deep maze of clicks and steps you need to take to delete your account. The order of these steps are:

  1. “Let Us Help You”
  2. “Help”
  3. “Need More Help”
  4. “Contact Us”
  5. “Prime or Something Else”
  6. “Login and Security”
  7. “Close My Account”
  8. “Email, ring, or online message Amazon”

You will finally be able to close your account after the 8th step. Now, how many steps did it take to set up your account? Amazon makes it difficult for you to close your account because their primary goal is to keep you as a customer. Would you really want to go through all of these steps to close your account, or would you just give up halfway through?

Confirmshaming

Companies don’t only use misleading Design practices to get you to do something you don’t intend to do, they also guilt-trip you. This is “confirmshaming”. Many mailing lists and newsletters use this tactic to make the User feel the sense of missing out by refusing to sign up. It is a common tactic due to its easy implementation but it’s also the most counter-intuitive. It assumes the reader is easily persuaded, bending immediately to the fear of missing out.

Take JustFreeThemes as an example. On their website they have a pop up asking you to sign-up and get free themes each week. Below the big green button which proclaims “SEND me the FREE Themes”, is smaller white text saying ‘No thanks, I prefer to waste my time searching for themes’. It forces the User to feel guilty by stating the negative impact of saying no to subscribing.

Screengrab showing JustFreeThemes sign up form

Bait and Switch

“Bait and Switch” is where a User planned to do one thing but in return receives a different outcome. An example of this would be LinkedIn when you are trying to update your profile but instead cancel the changes. Typically, you are given the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option when a question is asked. However, LinkedIn does the opposite by giving the option of ‘Discard’ (yes to discarding the changes) and ‘No thanks’ (no, keep the changes). Intuitively, Users would click on ‘No thanks’ as it stands out the most. Users often have to go and make the changes again as they realised the updates haven’t been made. Tricks like this creates confusion and infuriates Users as it goes against the intuitive flow of a website.

For more examples, have a look at Harry Brignull’s Hall of Shame for companies who uses these Dark Pattern tactics in their designs.

Dark Pattern Backlash

Older forms of Dark Patterns such as hidden costs and forced continuity are starting to become illegal. GDPR has brought Dark Patterns into the light, with many opt-out services now requiring to be opt-in. Some Dark Patterns that make use of confusing language have been stopped by this fortunately. The use of double negatives, checking one box but unchecking another, and many other deceptive practices have become illegal through GDPR.

Say Yes to Honest Designs

Dark Patterns don’t strengthen your service. Instead Users find it unpleasant when tricked into doing something. Overall User satisfaction will increase when you concentrate on what your Users need over what you want. Great Designs will be recognised and appreciated by Users as much as they are by UX designers. Otherwise, you might just end up in Brignull’s “Hall of Shame”.

Sometimes the best Designs are the ones that don’t stand out as much compared to bad Designs, as we discussed previously in ‘Invisible Design is The Best UX’. At Graphic Mint we can help you with the Design of your next User Interface, following best practice and standards. Why not contact us today to start our journey together?