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4 years ago 5 min read

Dark Patterns in UX – The Jedi Way

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Using Dark Patterns in UX is tempting. They are based solely on all the knowledge we have on the internet users and how they interact with the Web and why they interact with it. It’s tempting to use this knowledge to hack their behavior to boost conversions. What seems like a nice idea may be a slippery slope in using UX the wrong way in the growth hacking process.

Dark Patterns in UX – Welcome to the Dark Side

According to darkpatterns.org, the definition of a Dark Pattern in UX is:

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

What this means exactly is that not everyone plays nice in the Internet world. Some people are actually studying carefully every move and habit that users tend to have and use this knowledge to set traps for the users to fall into.

Dark Patterns in UX
Dark Patterns in UX | Flickr

This study of habits is not uncommon and have started way before the Web even existed. Just think about every time you go to a supermarket and the entire shelf structure that you were accustomed to has changed.

Why? Because you probably remember where your favorite products are and you tend to take the fastest route to pick up the goods while ignoring other things the store may want to sell you. So they came up with an idea of mixing it up now and then to make you feel lost and buy more.

One of the most (in)famous examples of this type of User Pattern Studies comes from IKEA – where it was found that IKEA uses heat maps to find where visitors go and base their store design on this knowledge.

Now, let’s come back to the Web examples. How many times have you found yourself asking a question about why this app asks me for permission to post stuff on my social media accounts, or you signed up for a newsletter you wanted and ended up getting junk mail just because you clicked the submission button without reading the small print next to the check-box that was already ticked?

These examples are considered to be Dark Patterns in UX.

Patterns in UX Dark – the Yoda Wisdom

As mentioned before, there is an entire branch of study that is dedicated to hack the ways users think and thus boost conversion in an unfair way. Growth hackers, marketers, UX designers and most of all – business owners are tempted with these below-the-belt tricks to see quick gains. But what may seem like a good idea in the short term can be very damaging for the business in the long run.

Dark Patterns in UX
Dark Patterns in UX | Flickr

Users of your service may be in a different stages in the User Lifecycle. Starting from visitors that are just passing through your website unaware of what you may offer, through someone who is just interested, then to someone who is a first time user, frequent user and ending with a passionate who comes back to use your service or buy anything you offer.

All of the stages should be natural and, of course, can be enhanced but always with a use of fair techniques and not dirty tricks that use visitor’s short attention span (which is 8 seconds by the way) to make them do something that in real-life circumstances they wouldn’t even consider doing. This will only make users angry or disappointed with your service and they will think twice before coming back.

A good example of this is ResumeGenius, a website that helps build resume templates for people looking to update their CVs. However, they use small copy in discreet places to hide the fact that if you don’t cancel your subscription once your free trial ends, you’ll be billed for 40$!

Such practices obviously can infuriate any user base as they refuse any refunds and have garnered a lot of bad publicity from users that feel like they’ve been duped.

When you come to think of it, every stage of user lifecycle can be hacked in an unfair way and this has been proven by fair UX-loving people at darkpatterns.org. Take a look at the journey map user takes from homepage to exit – the number of Dark Patterns is astonishing.

Dark Patterns in UX - Journey Map
Dark Patterns in UX – Journey Map | darkpatterns.org

 

Just to name a few examples:

Forced Continuity: Some unfair players will offer a free trial but won’t inform user when set trial is coming to an end. They also require credit card information upon registering for a free trial. When user forgets to resign, credit card gets billed. Usually there is a no-refund policy on forgetting to cancel.

Misdirection: While installation of software most users tend to click “Next” on every screen. They may end up with some additional software installed like antivirus or weird search toolbars they don’t want.

Forced disclosure: When user wants to see locked content and it can only be unlocked by filling in a very complicated form which requires user to provide private or sensitive data.

Dark Patterns in UX – Jedi Strikes Back

Unfortunately, this is human nature to hack and size opportunity when it’s there. Dark Patterns in UX will pop up now and then because sometimes some Dark Lords of UX may seem this is the easy way to go. What should you do? Fight back!

Dark Patterns in UX
Dark Patterns in UX | Flickr

There is no need to run for help to the Empire when you have Jedi on your side. You need to remember that the most passionate users appreciate honesty and don’t want to be forced or tricked to do anything. There are number of solutions you can use to be fair and square and achieve business goals.

Don’t neglect the user in the process of design. You should always know who is your service built for and never stop developing. Users and their habits change. You need a smart way to approach it, measure these changes and find a way to adapt quickly to the change. The best way to stay on top of all the nuances of your user’s behavior is one thing – testing.

And if you are the one who uses Dark Patterns in UX – don’t worry. There is always a way to stay true and be fair to your users without ruining your online reputation. All you need to do is lose the Stormtrooper’s Uniform and join the Good Side.

Dark Patterns in UX
Dark Patterns in UX | Flickr
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