What are dark patterns?

The task of any UX designer is to provide users with a convenient and pleasant interaction with the product. The product must be honest and take users' interests into account, and not manipulate it nor harm it for the sake of profit.


This harmful UX for users is called "dark patterns" - these are interface elements that mislead users and force them to make decisions that they would not really want to make.


These are not random mistakes of bad designers but carefully crafted gimmicks that trick users. Dark patterns in interfaces are used to increase sales due to inattention of buyers, to achieve quantitative indicators of metrics in the short term, to obtain personal data, or even cause addiction to a product.

Examples of dark patterns in design

Dark patterns can be found everywhere. They are so common that some have become familiar or invisible.


The most common of them: automatic subscription to the newsletter due to an invisible checkbox, adding additional products to the cart, difficulty or account deletion and personal data, and notifications of lost profits.


The most popular site for dark patterns, darkpatterns.org, describes all types of traps:


Bait and Switch

When a user takes an action that leads to an unwanted result that they did not expect.


Disguised Ads

Ads do not look like ads but as part of the interface: content, navigation, or fake buttons.

Ads that look like a download button


Forced Continuity

The essence of this dark pattern is that money is debited from the user without reminders and without an easy way to disable auto-renewal when purchasing a free version of the product.

Coursera interface nudging users to enable paid services


Friend Spam

Requesting the right to access e-mail or social networks and then sending spam to the user's contacts without their direct consent. The most famous and hated example is Linkedin with its letters from the faces of its clients.

LinkedIn tricked users into sending spam emails to their friends


Hidden Costs

Usually, in the last stages of the checkout process, unexpected shipping prices, some kind of tax, and other hidden charges appear. This dark pattern is used in the expectation that the user has already spent a lot of time at checkout and does not want to lose the item.


Misdirection

Subtle or unnecessary services are slipped to the user while their attention is directed elsewhere.

If the user doesn’t notice, Skype will make Microsoft services central to the system.


Price Comparison Prevention

Everything is simple here - the user is not given a simple comparison of the prices of the same products.


Privacy Zuckering

Dark patterns are often disguised as harmless or useful things. For example, social networks recommend sharing their information in order to recommend relevant friends and interesting topics. However, this data is more likely to be sold to advertisers.


Roach Motel

Signs of this pattern are: the impossibility of deleting your account and the difficulty of unsubscribing from newsletters.


Sneak into Basket

During the shopping process, the site surreptitiously adds additional items to the cart, often with the help of subtle checkboxes on the previous page.


Trick Questions

The tricky wording of the questions is misleading and forces users to agree to actions that are harmful to them.

Cons of dark patterns

It seems that design that uses dark patterns can increase the number of users of a product, accelerate profitability, and make a business more successful. This effect may be true but short-lived. Users will quickly realize that they are being cheated and will go into a product that is more honest in helping them.


In addition to being considered unethical towards users, using dark patterns can negatively impact the reputation of a business or cause direct losses.


Not all people are good at finding dark patterns and bypassing them. Some people may fall into the trap, it is reasonable to feel cheated and talk about it on the Internet. Even one unhappy customer can have a significant negative impact on a brand.


Moreover, dark patterns are rarely as profitable as they seem at first glance. They result in lost long-term revenue, fewer repeat orders, more refund requests, and more difficult customer acquisition.


After a while, dark patterns stop working, and companies have to think about other ways to make a profit.

Alternative to dark patterns

A good designer is determined not only by how much money they bring to the business, but also how much the designer cares about the users. If the product really appreciates users, then they will use it and tell their friends about it.


Many designers find it good to use patterns because they are used by other successful companies like Apple or Google. But it is not recommended to blindly copy any design, it can be in a different context. And the fact that these companies use dark patterns and their users are satisfied does not mean that this is normal.


Be sure to use the context of your product. Research your audience before using solutions that have worked for someone else. Build an honest product with a transparent interface that delivers valuable content to users, then ask for a service in return.


In addition to creating “good UX” designers need to educate clients and colleagues that they are damaging the product if they want to use dark patterns. However, on one hand, the role of the designer is to make the user happy, but on the other hand, they should not forget about the profit of the company. It is important to find a balance between these two stakeholders.