Dark Patterns


More companies join the dark side because there is candy. So if your boss tells everyone the goal is to increase conversions and revenue no matter how, what is that you do? It’s in your power to do good or join the dark side.

As Harry Brignull from darkpatterns.org puts it:

“A Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.

Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of laziness or mistakes. These are known as design anti-patterns. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.”

Our job as user experience and interface designers is to help the user make progress in a positive way, not to trick them into doing things that will increase revenues. Don’t get me wrong, increasing revenues is good, but it’s the how we should be concerned with.

Image Credit: Harry Brignull

Image Credit: Harry Brignull

Someone messing with my shopping cart?

When shopping for a phone online, have you ever gotten it “accidentally” insured or had some accessories shipped with it? If not, you’re in luck. But there are a number of retailers who rely on such trickery.

Basically what happens is they put stuff in your cart without asking and show a UI in such a way that you don’t notice it, hit next – next and finish checking out. Only when you get the printout with the shipment you might realize, hey I didn’t order this, but in fact you did.

It was actually lower on the screen and not visible, but the “Next Step” was so prominent up there… I just wanted to finish the whole checkout process as quickly as possible.

And then when you realize it’s just $10 more for the screen protectors and the extra wiper, you might not even bother shipping it back because it’s just not worth the pain. So the company wins, but is it actually a win?


Dark patterns are designed to trick you into doing things that you don’t intend to. Why is it good to know about these?

We need to educate users about it, and we as professionals need to know about these. It is our responsibility not to use them when building products. These are usually ways to a couple of extra bucks, but if the user notices it’s likely he will be looking somewhere else for help next time. So it is a bad decision for the business in the long run.

Easy in, difficult out

By design dark patterns make it super simple and intuitive to get in – whatever that might be – like signing up for an unwanted subscription. When you are in, they make it super hard to get out. It’s not like, the “No questions asked money back guarantee” it’s like “Hey, you can cancel it, but you’ll have to go through the process of answering 20 questions, printing it out, signing it then sending it by post to the mailing address of the company.” Which btw cannot be easily found… And then you give up at some point.

cancel service

Navigating murky waters

You never know what is going to hit you. There are more and more companies that are going fully transparent which equals less surprises and people trusting them more. Using dark patterns is like having a hidden agenda. The user will never know what jumps at them.

At the end of the day it all goes back to trust. So the question in the user’s mind will look something like “Do I trust these people enough to do business with them?”

I encourage you to watch this video about dark patterns.

Are you helping people make progress in their lives with what you do or are you tricking them into doing things they don’t intend to do? Use your powers responsibly!

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