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Have you ever found yourself browsing a website and feeling like you couldn’t escape from a particular flow? Perhaps like you were tricked into providing information you didn’t want to share or buying additional items you didn’t plan to purchase? Maybe you’ve found yourself accidentally inviting your entire contact list to an app you were trying out?

Deceptive design patterns like these are known as dark patterns, coined by UX specialist Harry Brignull, founder of the Deceptive Design blog, in 2010. The blog describes dark patterns, or deceptive design patterns, as “tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn’t mean to, like buying or signing up for something.”

Some types of dark patterns include:

  • Sneak into basket: “You attempt to purchase something, but somewhere in the purchasing journey the site sneaks an additional item into your basket, often through the use of an opt-out radio button or checkbox on a prior page.”
  • Confirmshaming: “The act of guilting the user into opting into something. The option to decline is worded in such a way as to shame the user into compliance.”
  • Misdirection: “The design purposefully focuses your attention on one thing in order to distract your attention from another.”

Dark patterns often violate the usability heuristics we’ve discussed in previous lessons. For example, a dark pattern might make it difficult for a user to get out of a particular flow once they’ve entered it (also known as the roach motel), violating Heuristic #3: User control and freedom.

As UX and UI designers, instead of relying on dark patterns, we should consider how to create honest, intuitive designs that balance favorable outcomes that serve both user needs and business goals. While dark design patterns may lead to short-term business gains, they ultimately diminish trust for a product or brand over time and do a disservice to the people using our designs.

Instructions

  1. Interact with the applet to the right. See if you can spot any dark patterns.

    Answers
    The applet features...
  2. Think about some websites you’ve visited recently. Did you encounter any dark patterns?

    How would you have designed those flows differently to create a more intuitive, transparent user experience? If you like, select a dark pattern (or series of dark patterns) from an existing website and create sketches or wireframes to redesign that flow.

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