The world of User Experience (UX) design constantly evolves to ensure seamless and enjoyable interactions between users and digital products. Nevertheless, within this landscape, dark patterns lurk. These are deceptive techniques that some designers use to manipulate user behaviour for their own benefit. Dark patterns in UX are user interfaces that are designed to deceive or coerce users into taking actions they didn’t intend or want. These interfaces are cleverly crafted to trick or mislead users.
According to Harry Brignull, the man who made this term popular, “A dark pattern is a type of user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick people into doing things.” These tricks aim to manipulate your behaviour and disrupt your course of action, often without you realising the same. He also emphasised the fact that these dark patterns are penetrating your valuable personal information and using it to market to you certain products or services. Companies or designers implement such dark patterns in UX for multiple reasons, but mostly to increase their profits or conversions.
Welcome to our comprehensive blog where we will explore the world of dark patterns. We will uncover 13 commonly used tactics and provide valuable insights on how to avoid falling victim to their influence. Throughout our discussion, we will highlight the significance of ethical design practices and their significant impact on user trust, loyalty, and overall satisfaction.
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Dark Patterns: Unveiling the Deception
While navigating the vastness of the internet, users often encounter cleverly devised traps set by UX designers. In UX design, there are traps known as ‘dark patterns’ that aim to manipulate individuals into taking actions they didn’t intend to or strongly influence them to choose something they don’t want. An instance of a dark pattern is a deceptive pop-up that requests personal information before granting access to the desired content.
The term ‘dark patterns’ was created by Harry Brignull, a UX designer. It describes user interfaces that are intentionally designed to deceive and manipulate user behaviour, often without the user even realizing it. These dark patterns may exploit users’ personal information to market specific products or services. Companies or designers use dark patterns in UX to boost profits or increase conversions. This article will shed light on the 13 most prevalent dark patterns in UX, accompanied by actionable tips on how to shield yourself from their influence.
Types of Dark Patterns in UX
Dark patterns come in various shapes and sizes, each aiming to ensnare users in their snares. Below, we elaborate on 13 commonly used dark patterns, empowering you, as a netizen, to protect your privacy, personal information, and financial interests while optimising your user experience.
1. Bait and Switch
The bait-and-switch dark pattern entices users with one product or service but switches to a different, less desirable option once they are committed. For example, a website may display attractive product pricing but raise the costs during checkout, resulting in frustrated users, manipulated into clicking more.
In the realm of e-commerce, the bait-and-switch dark pattern plays a significant role in persuading users to explore products or services they initially had no intention of purchasing. Designers present a compelling offer that attracts users, only to replace it with a less attractive alternative upon closer examination. For example, a clothing website may showcase a heavily discounted item to lure users in, but once they add it to their cart, the discount disappears, leaving them with the original, higher price.
To avoid falling prey to the bait-and-switch dark pattern, users must practice caution and verify the final price before making a purchase. Reading product descriptions and comparing prices across different websites can also help users identify potential bait-and-switch tactics.
2. Roach Motel
The roach motel dark pattern traps users by making it difficult to cancel a service or return a product. Signing up or purchasing is easy, but exiting or reversing the process becomes a cumbersome ordeal, leading to unnecessary expenses and wasted time.
In the digital age, subscriptions and online services have become integral parts of our lives. However, the roach motel dark pattern exploits users’ reluctance to navigate complex cancellation processes to retain them as customers. Many streaming platforms, software services, and membership sites are guilty of implementing this dark pattern.
For instance, users may sign up for a free trial, intending to explore a service’s features before making a commitment. However, once the trial period ends, cancelling the subscription becomes a challenging task, often requiring users to navigate through multiple menus and hidden options. This manipulation results in users unwittingly paying for services they never intended to use.
To avoid falling into the roach motel trap, users must carefully read the terms and conditions of any service or subscription before signing up. Additionally, they should research the cancellation process and ensure it is easily accessible and straightforward.
3. Hidden Costs
Concealing additional costs until the final checkout is the hallmark of the hidden costs dark pattern. Users are enticed by enticing prices but encounter unexpected charges like shipping fees, service charges, or taxes, leaving them feeling deceived.
The hidden costs dark pattern preys on users’ tendency to be attracted to low prices. E-commerce websites, in particular, use this technique to encourage users to add items to their carts, only to reveal hidden costs during the checkout process.
For example, a user may find a product advertised at an irresistible price, prompting them to add it to their cart. However, as they proceed to the final payment stage, additional charges are revealed, significantly inflating the overall cost. This deceptive tactic can lead to user frustration and dissatisfaction.
To avoid falling victim to hidden costs, users should always review the itemised costs during the checkout process and look for any potential hidden charges. Additionally, reading customer reviews and researching the seller’s reputation can provide valuable insights into their pricing practices.
4. Forced Continuity
This dark pattern forces users to provide personal information to access content or claim a free trial, leaving them with no alternative but to comply. For example, a website may demand payment information before allowing users to access free content or continue using the site.
The forced continuity dark pattern exploits users’ desire for free content or trial offers. By mandating personal information, such as credit card details, the website gains valuable data for future marketing or billing purposes.
To avoid being ensnared by forced continuity, users should exercise caution when providing personal information to access free content or trials. They can also look for alternative platforms that offer similar content without demanding such information upfront.
5. Disguised Ads
Disguised ads are dark patterns that camouflage advertising content as part of the user experience, leading users to interact with ads unknowingly. This tactic aims to deceive users into engaging with advertisements they may otherwise ignore.
Disguised ads are pervasive across various digital platforms, from websites to mobile apps. Companies seek to increase ad engagement and click-through rates by presenting ads as native content. For example, you may suddenly come across a lot of ads, affecting your decision-making capability to click. A post that is sponsored on a social media platform might look like it was created by a regular user, making it hard to tell if it’s an advertisement or genuine content.
To avoid falling victim to disguised ads, users should be vigilant while navigating digital platforms. They should critically assess the content they encounter and pay attention to visual cues that may indicate sponsored material.
The misdirection dark pattern diverts users’ attention away from important information or manipulates them into making unintended decisions. Design elements like labels, images, or visual cues are strategically placed to mislead and guide users towards actions that benefit the website rather than the user.
Misdirection tactics are commonly employed during checkout processes to steer users towards unwanted add-ons or additional purchases. For example, a pop-up advertisement labelled ‘continue’ may lead users to a new browser tab full of sponsored content instead of proceeding with their intended action.
To avoid being misled by misdirection, users should read all prompts carefully and question any unexpected or seemingly out-of-place visual cues. Double-checking the legitimacy of pop-ups and advertisements can help users avoid falling into this dark pattern trap.
7. Friend Spam
Friend spam refers to the deceptive use of language or design to deceive individuals into unknowingly inviting their friends to join a service, app, or website without their consent. This dark pattern exploits users’ social connections to expand the service’s user base.
In the past, social media platforms have been criticised for using friend spam tactics to expand their networks. For example, LinkedIn faced backlash for sending emails to its users’ contacts without their explicit permission, encouraging them to join the platform.
To avoid falling into the trap of friend spam, users should be cautious when sharing personal information with any platform or service. They should verify the implications of granting permission for such actions and refrain from inadvertently spreading unwanted invitations.
8. Confirm Shaming
Confirm shaming is a type of dark pattern that manipulates user behaviour by using shame, guilt, or social pressure. Some patterns of language can make users feel like they’re making a bad decision or missing out on something valuable. This can be coercive and may cause them to take actions they wouldn’t have otherwise taken.
Imagine a scenario where a website displays a message to discourage users from cancelling their sign-up. The message says, “If you quit, you’ll lose your 50% introductory discount. Do you really want to pay full price later?” This type of tactic is manipulative and uses psychological pressure to sway user choices. To avoid being influenced by confirm shaming, users should recognise and question emotionally charged language or design elements that attempt to make them feel guilty or anxious. They should make decisions based on their genuine preferences rather than external pressure.
9. Privacy Zuckering
Named after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, ‘privacy zuckering’ refers to unethical practices employed by companies to collect and misuse users’ personal information for targeted advertising or behaviour tracking.
Privacy zuckering has been a subject of controversy for several social media platforms, with allegations of mishandling user data and violating privacy norms. Companies may use deceptive design patterns to obtain users’ consent for data collection, often buried within lengthy terms and conditions.
10. Price Comparison Prevention
The dark pattern of preventing price comparison obstructs users from comparing prices of different products, services or plans, depriving them of the chance to make an informed decision and get the best possible deal.
E-commerce websites often employ this dark pattern to discourage users from seeking better prices elsewhere. By hiding or obstructing price comparison tools, these websites hope to retain users’ attention and encourage them to complete the purchase without exploring alternatives.
To avoid the pitfalls of price comparison prevention, users should make an effort to research and compare prices across multiple providers. Taking the time to explore different options can lead to cost savings and a better understanding of the market.
11. Trick Questions/Options
Some UX designers use deceptive dark patterns to misguide users into taking actions they didn’t intend to. For instance, a sign-up form may have pre-selected options that require users to unselect them if they don’t want to share additional information or subscribe to unwanted newsletters.
This manipulative tactic relies on users’ autopilot behaviour, leading them to take action without carefully evaluating the consequences. By pre-selecting certain options or phrasing questions ambiguously, designers steer users towards choices that benefit the website or service provider.
To avoid being tricked by deceptive questions or options, users should read form fields and questions carefully, taking the time to understand the implications of their responses. They should remain attentive to any pre-selected options and deselect them if they do not align with their preferences.
12. Sneak into the Basket
The sneak-into-basket dark pattern occurs when an additional product or service is surreptitiously added to a user’s cart during the checkout process without their consent or knowledge.
This dark pattern is common in e-commerce platforms, where websites attempt to increase sales by including add-on items without the user’s explicit consent. For example, while purchasing a new gadget, an extended warranty service may be added to the cart automatically, driving up the total cost.
To avoid falling victim to the sneak-into-basket dark pattern, users should carefully review their cart before proceeding to payment. Double-checking the cart’s contents can help users identify any unauthorised additions and avoid unexpected expenses.
13. Social Proof
Social proof is a psychological principle suggesting that people are more likely to conform to the behaviour of others in a given situation. In UX design, social proof is manipulated to influence user behaviour based on the perceived actions of others.
E-commerce websites frequently use this dark pattern to instil a sense of urgency and desirability in potential customers. Displaying a number of users who have recently purchased a product or service creates the impression that others are investing in and trusting the offering.
To avoid being swayed by social proof dark patterns, users should critically evaluate the legitimacy of displayed numbers and reviews. Relying on verified customer feedback and seeking second opinions can help users make more informed decisions.
14. Avoiding Dark Patterns: Empowering Users
The prevalence of dark patterns in UX design necessitates users’ vigilance and critical thinking to protect their interests and privacy. Here are essential tips to avoid falling into the traps set by dark patterns:
Read Terms and Conditions: Always read the terms and conditions of any service or subscription before signing up. Be aware of potential difficulties in cancelling services or returning products.
Avoid Rushing Checkout: Take your time during the checkout process to carefully read all prompts and ensure transparency in pricing and additional charges.
Compare Prices: Compare prices from multiple providers to gain a comprehensive view of the product or service’s cost and any potential hidden fees.
Recognise Disguised Ads: Be attentive to visual cues and critically assess content to identify disguised ads and avoid unwanted interactions.
Question Misdirection: Carefully read all prompts and question any unexpected visual cues or misleading information that could lead you astray.
Verify Friend Invitations: Be cautious when sharing personal information and avoid inadvertently spreading unwanted invitations through friend spam.
Research Price Comparison: Take the time to explore different options and compare prices across various providers to make informed purchasing decisions.
Read Carefully: Please pay close attention to the form fields and questions provided. If any pre-selected options do not align with your preferences, please be sure to deselect them. fences, please be sure to deselect them.
Review Your Cart: Carefully review your cart contents before proceeding to payment to identify any unauthorised additions.
Evaluate Social Proof: Critically evaluate the legitimacy of displayed numbers and reviews before making decisions based on social proof.
The realm of dark patterns in UX design is vast and ever-evolving, with deceptive tactics aimed at manipulating user behaviour for the benefit of businesses or service providers. Users must be vigilant, cautious, and mindful of the various dark patterns that may lurk within digital platforms. By understanding and recognising these dark patterns, users can protect their privacy, personal information, and financial interests. Armed with knowledge and critical thinking, users can avoid falling into the traps of dark patterns, empowering themselves to navigate the digital landscape with confidence and make informed decisions.
Ultimately, ethical design practices that prioritise user experience, transparency, and user empowerment are essential to fostering trust, loyalty, and satisfaction among users. Embracing ethical UX design is the path towards creating a digital world that truly serves and enhances the lives of its users.
What are dark patterns in UX design?
Dark patterns are manipulative user interface design elements or techniques deliberately crafted to trick or deceive users into taking actions they may not want to. These patterns exploit psychological vulnerabilities, making it difficult for users to make informed choices.
Why should I be concerned about dark patterns in my UX design?
Incorporating dark patterns can harm your users’ trust and perception of your brand, leading to negative user experiences. It can also result in decreased user retention, increased bounce rates, and potential legal issues if deceptive practices are employed.
What are some common examples of dark patterns?
Some examples of dark patterns include deceptive wording, hidden charges, forced continuity (auto-subscribe), bait-and-switch tactics, fake urgency, and confusing unsubscribe processes.