Browsing a variety of different sites online will give you some idea of the different approaches to UX that different businesses and eCommerce stores have. One of which you should look out for is Dark UX approaches. Some sites are designed to push the viewer along into making a decision that they didn’t necessarily want to. It could be to get you to add more to your basket, or it could be to get you to sign up for an email list – in any case, it’s usually not a user-friendly feature. If anything, it’s the opposite.
What is Dark UX Pattern Design and What Can It Do to Your Conversions?
So what is Dark UX? Put simply, Dark UX patterns are manipulative and deceptive practices that are used to push the user toward the gain of the business or host. While UX is usually used to create a much better experience for the user, that’s not always what management has in mind. Of course, happier users are great for generating sales – but it may prove even more effective if the user was pushed into a sale instead.
With that said, it’s often not great for long-term sales. Dark UX patterns can be frustrating to deal with, and users will likely hesitate to return. It’s effective for businesses that are trying to meet their quota quickly, but those numbers will be diminishing over time.
Common Examples of Dark UX Patterns in Web Design to Avoid
Now you know what they are, it’s important to know what to look out for, and how many different ways a site might be trying to manipulate your decisions when browsing. Here are some of the more common Dark UX design examples that you might come across, and avoid using:
No one likes clicking on ads, especially by accident. In some cases, Dark UX patterns will encourage the user to click on these ads by disguising them as something else on the website. The user will then be redirected to a page they had no intention of visiting.
Not only should you be more aware of these to avoid being redirected elsewhere, but you should also be sure not to do the same with your own web design. An example of this would be the “Download” buttons that are often displayed when you’re looking for something useful – only for the real one to be tucked away at the side.
Ever signed up for a free trial just to see what it’s like? Oftentimes these services will ask for your payment information from you before you start the “free” trial. Of course, they’re hoping for you to forget about the trial end date by the time you have to pay for it. You’ll be automatically charged for the next month of the service, just because you forgot to cancel your free trial. You can see this commonly with services like Netflix, or Amazon Prime.
In some cases, you’ll be refunded if you notice it quick enough, but that’s not enough to make this practice user-friendly.
Guilt-tripping is never a positive experience, and it’s especially predatory when used by businesses to get customers to do what they want. There are a number of places where this can be seen. Unsubscribing from services such as anti-virus software sometimes employs this tactic, with the cancel option being worded as “I no longer want my computer to be safe”. eCommerce stores use it with discount popups, where the dismiss button will suggest “I HATE saving money”.
Overall, it puts unnecessary pressure on the user to make a decision that shouldn’t make them feel bad. The site is forcing emotion onto the user, over something that shouldn’t be a dilemma.
Sneak into basket
Have you ever gone to check-out when shopping online, only to find the cost of your basket is more than you expected? Oftentimes these sites will add an extra package to the basket without you asking for it – and while there’s nothing stopping you from removing it, unsuspecting users may be charged extra after they didn’t notice it for themselves.
You might see this when businesses try to sell you extra warranties on your products, or insurance that you never asked for. Users should never be tricked into buying something they didn’t want in the first place.
If you’ve ever experienced difficulty trying to unsubscribe from the service before, you should know this is called Roach Motel. Of course, users can unsubscribe from the service – but only once they find the button to do so. The unsubscribe option may be hidden behind pages of settings, and only kept in small print to prevent it from being recognized.
Instagram users have reported that once they wanted to deactivate their account, they weren’t able to do so permanently. Instead, the account was reactivated, likely requiring the user to contact support to do something about it – making it unnecessarily difficult to get away from the platform.
Bait and switch
Another form of trickery seen from time to time is the bait and switch, where users are tricked into clicking on something they didn’t want to through means of deception. For example, a cancel button does the exact opposite. Even larger companies such as Microsoft have pulled this on their users during 2016. The user would be prompted with an update for Windows 10, and seemingly the only way to cancel it would be through the X commonly seen at the top-right side of the window. Instead of cancelling it, though, it would confirm and begin updating. Users were almost forced to take an update to a product they did not want.
Similar to the Sneak in the Basket method, hidden costs trick users into paying more for their items than they were expecting to. If you’ve ever bought anything online, and then once you arrived at the checkout you noticed the price was much higher than initially promised, you’ve been a victim of hidden costs. The site may try to play this off as the additional service fees, or extras that are mandatory to come with the product – but the overall price should be as displayed, not a surprise waiting for you at the checkout.
Not everyone gets to have a UX pattern named after them, but Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook has his own Dark UX term. Facebook has a reputation for its lack of privacy and often received criticism for making it difficult to make private information less public than users wanted it to be. That’s not just limited to Facebook, though, despite the name. Businesses will often sell your data without you knowing about it, and they would have tricked you into agreeing to it by hiding that information in the small print.
Of all of the Dark UX patterns on here, misdirection is something you are more likely to see on sites. One of the most subtle and seemingly ‘harmless’ methods of manipulating the user is through using visuals to distract users away from something. For example, when it’s time to cancel your account, the site may have a lot more going on on the cancel page, all the while keeping the actual cancel button tucked away from your view.
This often happens with website cookies, and while only subtle – you’ll often see the “Accept All” option highlighted in blue as the more obvious option, while “Reject All” sits next to it with no attempt to highlight it whatsoever. If you’re in a rush and trying to dismiss the window, it’s easy to make the mistake.
Signing up for a website, and then having it request access to your contacts isn’t always the best sign. While it might be promising to help you find friends on that same website, there’s a chance it’s instead spamming your contacts posing as you – with the request that they sign up to join you.
You would have seen this one or yourself if any of your contacts had signed up with LinkedIn. This is a highly deceptive method of gaining more traffic, and as a result, LinkedIn was fined $13 million. It’s a good idea to avoid giving sites and apps you don’t trust access to any of your personal information or accounts.
Key Takeaways for Dark UX Patterns in Web Design
- Using dark patterns is not only unethical, but it’s short-lived. You can’t expect to get away with manipulating your audience before they become fully aware of how you’re treating them.
- Your business’ reputation will be completely ruined after some time – making further growth almost impossible.
- It’s much better to invest time and money into user-friendly UX design patterns, creating a much more positive experience.
You should be treating your prospective customers with respect if you want them to return to your site, or recommend your brand to their family and friends. A positive user experience allows for much more steady and consistent growth.