Dark Patterns in UX


The digital experience is becoming more intuitive and sophisticated, with a big push in most sectors to become digitised. With greater reliance on interfaces in our day to day decision making, there is a need for thoughtful UX, supplemented with information that is easy to understand. However, some interfaces are not always designed with the best experience for the user. If they are designed to confuse or deceive the user, they are known as ‘dark patterns’.


Dark patterns are deceptive tricks designed into an interface that makes you buy, agree or sign up for something without being explicit. The EU’s Consumer Rights Directive has banned some dark pattern practices relating to ecommerce, but many companies still find a way to include them in their transactions.

Examples of common dark patterns are:

-Products already added to your online purchase such as insurance without you realising

-Inability to compare prices or features of a product on the same page

-Confusing language for opting out of email marketing


A good interface helps guide the user to make a decision, but in a way the user is conscious they are making this choice. User experiences should help and guide the user, but should not manipulate or deceive them. There is a large movement across many sectors to make their digital experience 'transparent'. This basically means making the information they are trying to convey as clear and easy to understand as possible. This ranges from increasing usability of the site, making language succinct, to increasing legibility of text. Dark patterns negate this movement and can make the user feel cheated and untrusting of the interface and that brand. 


Users assume things when making decisions on an interface. Assumptions save time and reduce cognitive effort, especially on a familiar site. As an example, it is natural to follow the pattern of scanning a page and clicking the ‘next’ button when the button is in the right hand of the screen. If the ‘next’ is replaced by a different call to action such as ‘upgrade’ in the same placement, it is very easy to click upgrade when you had no desire to. 


Many airline sites add on extras such as extra luggage or insurance. This is known as the ‘sneak into basket’ dark pattern. These extras would be added when you are at the summary screen before the payment details. These are usually not prominent so if you are in a rush you may just continue to the payment without noticing. This is now illegal in the UK and some European countries thanks to the Consumers Right Directive, but variations on this are still used by some airlines.


Another example is to write intentionally confusing copy, written to confuse the user so they make the wrong decision. We have all encountered how difficult it is to unsubscribe or opt out of some companies email campaigns; this is typically due to the language used. The use of double negatives in a sentence is common when placed next to a checkbox. Usually it isn’t clear whether checking the box will opt you in or out.


Hidden costs are another dark pattern that you should be aware of. These are fees or taxes that are only surfaced later on in the transaction process. A certain large ticket company is often guilty of this, however it is quite vague whether this breaches the Fair Trading Act or not, due to the cost being displayed before the purchase is completed. This may be legal but it is certainly not transparent or fair to customers.


So now you are aware of some of these dark patterns, keep an eye out for them and be careful when you use websites and apps. The interface may not be as transparent as you think.

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