Can you see the dark patterns? | Trickery & UX
What makes UX great? Depending on what’s important to you, your answer might be higher conversion rates, satisfied users or using the most creative design principles - or something else entirely.
The truth is that we need a combination of all of these - they are interlaced and affect each other directly.
As with most things in life, UX starts looking a bit shit and underperforming when we approach it with inflexibility in our thinking and focus on one aspect of it rather than seeing it as an ecology.
Whether you’ve heard of ‘Dark Patterns’ before or not, you’re sure to have encountered them. Essentially, they are UX design features that intentionally mislead and exploit our psychology in order to achieve a goal. These goals range in gravity, from getting people to subscribe to annoying newsletters to getting credit cards at misleading rates.
What UX designer would do this? The answer is simple: one who is intensely focused on conversion rates and doesn’t really care about the experience of the user (how ironic). There is a depth to dark pattern UX-ers though, as they’re not bad designers - on the contrary. They understand human psychology and carefully craft content that will achieve business goals with no regard to the users’ interest.
You could argue that they’re just really good at their jobs. You could also say that a UX code of ethics should be put in place. You could also blow a raspberry and not care. This article isn’t about that - this is more about being informed about the traps that you could fall into so that you can avoid them. There are some classic ones like hidden costs, disguised ads or misdirection but I won’t bore you with that. (Go to Harry Brignull’s comprehensive list of Dark Patterns page for that - he’s the guy who also coined the term.) I’m going for mild amusement here, so here are the craziest ones I could find.
1. Roach Motel
What this looks like: You go through a seamless user journey and very easily convert on a website. You then realise that you want to cancel your subscription or order/delete your account/whatever, but the UX is crafted in such a way as to make it difficult for you to do so. You’re trapped in a Roach Motel.
A famous example of this is Amazon’s Prime account membership cancellation - which makes you go through roughly 15 steps in order to cancel:
2. Privacy Zuckering
What this looks like: You agree to share some information about yourself publicly - but you don’t realise the fact that the amount of data that will be shared is much larger than anticipated. You’ve just been Zuckered.
Remember in the good old days when people first realised that their privacy settings were all set ridiculously open by default? This was it. Nowadays, this is done more covertly through data brokerage - but that’s a story for a different time.
What this looks like:
See the common thread? They’re trying to guilt-trip you into opting in, by making you ask yourself, ‘But I am into savings…’. The wording in declining implies that you’re an idiot and makes you feel guilty for not going for the deal. You’ve been confirmshamed.
So what can we do?
Not much. Dark Patterns are going to be around as long as companies who don’t believe in the intrinsic value of their products still exist. Surely the better way to go is to create something that people will want to buy without you tricking them, but hey - who am I to judge. I had bangs in the naughties.
If we take the stoic approach, the only thing that is under our control is our own behaviour. So now that you know about these tricks, don’t fall for them. In the words of lead Dark Pattern Aficionado, Brignull:
“Our best defense against the dark patterns is to be aware of them, and shame the companies who utilize them.” - H. Brignull
It’s up to you if you want to name & shame - if you want to have a laugh, check out Brignull's ‘Hall of Shame’. (ha)
- Dark Patterns are UX design features that intentionally mislead and exploit our psychology in order to achieve a goal;
- Being aware of them enables us to not fall for the traps.