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5 examples of dark patterns in UX design

5 examples of dark patterns in UX design

Posted 02nd March, 2021 by Sarah

Words by: Charlotte Alice Moore

What is the core purpose of UX design?

Is it to ensure the products we create are useful? Or simple? How about inherently positive to interact with?

Or all of the above?

If UX is the experience that a user has with an end product, UX design is responsible for crafting that experience – using elements of psychology, clever layouts and thoughtful copy to nudge the user into having the experience that’s been designed for them.

So, what happens when we use this knowledge for less reputable reasons?

We end up with dark patterns.

So, what are dark patterns in UX?

The phrase Dark Patterns is thought to have been coined by Harry Brignull in 2010 and conversations about unethical user design have been growing among designers, researchers and developers ever since.

UX Designer, David Todd explains that “a dark pattern is the result of decisions made in favour of the organisation as opposed to the favour of the user. Often with the intent of increasing profit or extraneous data gather. This normally manifests in the org-favouring user journey being the easiest and most accessible route for the user, for example making it simpler for a user to opt-in to marketing emails than to proceed without subscribing.”

Now you see it, now you don’t.

The most obvious dark pattern is misdirection. Good designers will always try to ensure that the most important elements of a website for the customer stand out.

However, dark patterns tend to focus on ‘visual interference’. This basically describes the use of visuals to manipulate a user.

Ever struggled to find an unsubscribe link? This is one of the most common examples of visual interference. – a designer purposely makes a link tricky to spot, with the aim being that most visitors will simply give up trying to find it.

Contact sharing

Back in 2015, LinkedIn ended up paying heavily for their use of dark patterns, specifically to do with contact sharing.

Essentially, it was tricky to sign up to LinkedIn without sharing the details of your virtual contacts. You’d then be inadvertently responsible for spamming your contacts with ‘join me on LinkedIn’ emails.

While LinkedIn were one of the businesses held accountable for these actions, they’re not the only ones responsible.

Forced continuity

Forced continuity is found across multiple subscription websites, specifically, ones that open with a free trial.

Harry Brignull describes it as ’a dark pattern in which the user signs up for a free trial but has to enter their credit card details. When the trial ends, they start getting charged. There’s no opportunity to opt out, no reminder, and no easy way to cancel the automatic charging of their credit card’.

Roach motel

Ever tried to close your Amazon account? A ‘roach motel’ is a website or app that is near-impossible to leave. Whether that’s unsubscribing from a spammy mailing list, removing your details or closing your Amazon account. It’s a situation that’s easy to get into, but, not so easy to leave.

Dark copy

The best-known example of dark copy is when you register with a service and you’re presented with a series of checkboxes.

Often the options of the checkboxes are alternated so ticking the checkbox means "opt-out" while leaving it empty means "opt-in". The language around this is created to be confusing to encourage more users to inadvertently share their details.

So, how do you spot dark patterns?

UX designer, David Todd explains that most examples of dark patterns largely exist in scenarios when users are choosing a product or submitting a form.

“Users will tend to read checkbox content carefully before submitting if the wording is not plain-English the user may assume a dark pattern is at play.

In other scenarios where a choice is given different sized or coloured interactive elements like buttons may indicate a dark pattern. For example, a larger button to agree on a higher-cost product but a smaller button to agree on a lower-priced product.”

If you’ve spotted a dark pattern in the wild (web), you can flag it on Harry Brignull’s website.

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Categories: Web Design

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