Have you ever heard of Dark Patterns? Also known as ‘deceptive design’, it is a quite debatable topic in the world of UX design. In short, dark patterns are types of design that are used to trick users into certain actions that they didn’t intend to, often for the benefit of the company or website owner.
In this article, we will explore what dark UX patterns are and the different types that commonly exist. Furthermore, let’s also discuss whether it is actually a smart move or something that is unethical to do.
As designers became more aware of the psychological effects of various design elements on users, they began to employ these techniques to influence their behaviour. While some of these techniques are used to improve the user experience, others are used to take advantage of users for the benefit of the companies.
Harry Brignull, a UX expert, coined the term "dark patterns" in 2010. He set up a website to raise awareness about the use of deceptive design and to show examples of dark patterns that can be found publicly. He also has classified 12 types of deceptive designs, including:
Bait and switch, Confirmshaming, Disguised ads, Forced continuity, Friend spam, Hidden costs, Misdirection, Price comparison prevention, Privacy zuckering, Roach motel, Sneak into basket, Trick questions
Bait and switch
It happens when you try to select a specific option but the interface displays other undesirable options, leaving you confused, frustrated, and dissatisfied. Have you ever had this happen to you? Bait and switch can be performed in a variety of ways, including advertising a low-priced item and then displaying a higher-priced item once the user clicks on the ad.
It is the act of guilting the user for not choosing a suggested option. The option to decline is worded in such a way as to shame the user or make them feel bad.
Disguised ads are becoming pretty widespread on websites and apps these days. Those ads blend in with the page, cleverly disguised as content or navigation. As a result, a user could easily unintentionally click on them.
We’re 99% sure you’ve encountered at least one of these in your entire life, such as an ad that looks like a download button. Then, when you click, voilà, you're redirected to another page.
A “friend spam” dark pattern happens when a product tricks you into inviting your friends or contacts to join something, then spams them with messages claiming to be from you. Isn’t it such a horror story? Nobody likes spam.
You sign up for a free trial service, but you are still required to provide your credit card information. When the trial period expires, your credit card is automatically charged without prior notice. Furthermore, you are not always given an easy way to cancel this membership.
Set a reminder to cancel your subscription if you don't want to be charged the next time you use a free trial like this!
It occurs when the interface design deceives you into purchasing something by hiding the true cost. This can be done by making the price hard to see or understand, only showing the basic price, or by presenting it as a "discount" or "special offer".
Then, when you reach the final step of the checkout process, you discover some unexpected charges (e.g., delivery charge & tax) that were not mentioned previously and increase the final price significantly.
To distract your attention, the design intentionally focuses your attention on one thing. Your reflex actions may take you far away from your original intention. And you may later come to regret it and wonder, "What have I done?"
Price comparison prevention
The site interface purposefully makes it difficult to compare the prices of different items, preventing you from making an informed decision. For example is by using different currencies or quantities.
It happens when the design makes you get tricked into publicly sharing more information about yourself than you really intended to. This is often done without your full knowledge or consent. For example, a social media platform might collect your location and contacts without adequately explaining how they’ll use that information.
The design makes it easy for you to join a service, but hard to get out. For example, if you want to subscribe to a premium service, the step would be as simple as 1 2 3. However, when it comes time to unsubscribe, they make the process extremely difficult for you.
Sneak into basket
It is, as the name implies, when an additional item is magically added to your cart alongside the product you chose. As the user, you may be unaware that you agreed to something on the previous page, resulting in the appearance of that item sneaking into your basket.
The questions or content are written in a way to intentionally confuse the user. When you read quickly, the question appears to ask one thing, but when you read carefully, it actually asks something entirely different.
As per Harry Bignull, if users are educated and cautious, they can be aware of these dark patterns and avoid these schemes. With more education and socialization, users are becoming more aware that they should be careful when using websites or apps to avoid being tricked.
Nevertheless, it is also essential for designers and product owners to avoid these dark patterns and explore alternative solutions in order to create a pleasant user experience. Instead of forcing users to take action, it would be far more wise to present options in a clear and honest manner. We create digital products for our customers in the hopes of earning their trust. So let's keep that in mind. Create an ethical design to increase your value in the eyes of your users.
Dark patterns are frequently embraced and accepted as a result of better conversion performance in user testing. However, there is a significant cost for applying these techniques: the worsening of your relationship with your users.
So now the choice is yours. What is your product’s value, priorities, and long-term goals? Getting a few extra clicks now or maintaining your users’ trust and respect?