3 popular Dark Design Patterns

3 popular Dark Design Patterns

A dark pattern is a term used to describe manipulative user interface design that takes advantage of users' common online behaviors, leading them to unwittingly engage in actions they didn't originally intend.

According to Harry Brignull, the UX specialist who coined the term, 'dark UX' is described as:

"A user interface that is meticulously designed to deceive users into taking specific actions. These designs are not accidental mistakes; they are intentionally created with a deep understanding of human psychology and often disregard the user's best interests."

Within the realm of UX, there are various 'gray' schemes, and designers and marketers are constantly coming up with new tactics. Brignull identified 12 categories in which dark patterns can be classified, but here, we will focus on the most common and compelling strategies, along with recent examples.

Bait and Switch

Renewing a paid subscription automatically without providing clear and easily accessible cancellation options is a classic example of a dark UX pattern. It can create challenges for users who want to stop ongoing payments, often leading to unexpected fees and a frustrating experience. To uphold an ethical user experience and establish trust with customers, it's crucial to be transparent and offer straightforward cancellation methods.

The situation you've outlined is a textbook example of a dark UX pattern, often known as a 'bait-and-switch.' It entails enticing users with the prospect of a free trial but subsequently moving them into a paid subscription without transparent disclosure or their consent. Such tactics can be deceptive and unethical, leading to a loss of trust between users and the company. Ethical UX design and business practices prioritize transparency, ensuring that any shifts from free trials to paid subscriptions are clearly explained and that users provide informed consent for ongoing charges.

You're absolutely right. Although these practices might technically be legal, they're clearly intended to exploit users who might not be paying close attention or who might misunderstand the situation. They don't align with ethical UX and business principles, which stress the importance of clear communication and transparency. Ensuring that users have all the information they need to make choices according to their preferences is crucial. These tactics might bring short-term benefits, but they can harm a company's reputation and erode user trust in the long run. Prioritizing outstanding usability and ethical design practices is essential for providing a positive user experience and building lasting customer relationships.

Limited offer

Marketing often uses the phrase 'Limited Offer' to make people feel like they need to act fast because something is in short supply. While not all 'limited offers' are bad, some companies can use them to push people into quick decisions they might regret. It's important for businesses to be responsible and honest with these tactics. They should tell customers about any restrictions or special terms related to the offer so that people aren't tricked or confused. Being clear and open is the way to keep trust and make sure users have a good experience.

When it comes to travel booking websites, finding the right balance between creating a sense of urgency and offering users accurate and informative details about availability, pricing, and special offers is crucial. Misleading users can result in a negative user experience and, in the long run, damage the platform's reputation.

Auto-Email Subscriptions

Compelling users to subscribe to a newsletter without their clear consent or using misleading design is classified as a dark UX pattern. This goes against ethical user experience principles, which emphasize the importance of user choice and consent. Ethical newsletter sign-up procedures should consistently offer users a straightforward and voluntary way to subscribe, guaranteeing that they have the choice to decide whether they want to receive marketing materials. Deceptive tactics can harm a company's reputation and result in a negative user experience. It's crucial to honor users' preferences and privacy by allowing them to opt in willingly.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe does require explicit consent for sending marketing materials to users. Nevertheless, it's not unusual to come across a verification step during e-commerce website interactions, particularly in cases where companies aim to confirm that users genuinely want to subscribe to marketing materials. This additional step can help validate a user's intention and prevent accidental sign-ups, which aligns with both legal requirements and ethical practices.

The important thing is that the verification step should be clear, and users should know what they're confirming. It shouldn't be used to sneakily sign up users without their permission. Good design respects what users want and their privacy, while also ensuring they know what they're doing.

Ethical design practices that focus on what users want, informed decisions, and clear communication ultimately make a product more user-friendly, reliable, and successful.