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Dark patterns: Yes, you are being tricked.

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Sophie King

Let’s take a moment to consider what bad design is. Usually, it consists of mistakes due to either laziness or a lack of understanding. These are known as anti-patterns. 

However, there’s another type of bad design that often goes under the radar. Unlike anti-patterns, it has been carefully considered and created with a solid understanding of human psychology…

Dark patterns. 

UX designer Harry Brignul coined the term ‘dark pattern’ back in 2010. They are sneaky user interface (UI) elements that have been designed with the intention of purposefully tricking and manipulating the user into an unwanted action. They often go undetected. 

Let’s be clear; ‘dark patterns’ are not outright scams. They are techniques used by well-established brands that benefit the company rather than the user.

So, why do companies resort to this type of deception? There’s only one reason; to increase sales. Short term this tactic may work, but ultimately it will result in customers no longer trusting the brand, product and service. Consequently, they may find an alternative.

Types of Dark Patterns

Let’s take a look at the different types of dark patterns... 

Trick Questions - Whilst the user completes a form they respond to a question that appears to ask one thing, but when read carefully it asks something different entirely.

The user is first asked to opt in, the second asks them to opt - this pattern is often used and users do not realise the action has changed. 

Sneaks into Basket - During the checkout process the site places an additional item in your basket - often using an opt-out radio button or checkbox on the prior page.

The customer attempts to purchase something, but somewhere in the journey, the site sneaks an additional item into your basket.

Roach Motel - Where the user gets into a situation easily, but it's almost impossible to get out of. This type of dark pattern is very common.

You can check out with ease, but you can never leave!

Privacy Zuckering - The user accidentally shares more information about themselves than intended. It is aptly named after Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Misdirection - The design purposefully manipulates the user attracting their attention and distracting them from something else.

Hidden Costs - The user gets to the final stage of the checkout process only to discover an unexpected charge has appeared - often shipping costs

Bait & Switch - You set out to do one thing, but a different ‘undesirable’ thing happens.

Confirmshaming - This is the act of guilting users into opting into something - designed in a way to ‘shame’ the user if they do not comply.

Disguised Ads - These are ads that are disguised as other types of content or navigation with the main objective of getting the user to click it.

Forced Continuity - The user reaches the end of their free trial and the company starts charging often without warning. Additionally, they make cancelling the membership extremely difficult.

Friend Spam - The product asks the user for email and/or social permissions under false pretence. This inevitably results in an undesirable outcome.

Dark patterns are bad for business and can have a negative impact in the long run. Often they are used to try and mask over bad UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). If you create a fantastic product and an impeccable user experience customers will not want to ‘unsubscribe.’ Instead of wasting energy tricking and manipulating the user, spend that time improving the overall design.   

So, now you know. It won’t be long before you start noticing them everywhere!

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