Dark patterns are user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design techniques that are intentionally manipulative and deceptive.

These techniques are designed and performed to trick the users into taking actions that they probably would not have taken if they were fully informed and aware of their choices.

Dark patterns are often used to extract more value from users, such as by making them purchase unnecessary products or services, or by tricking them into sharing personal information.

These unhethical practices can take many forms and can be found across a range of platforms and industries and for sure not just the digital ones.

Some common examples include:

  • Forced continuity, where users are automatically signed up for a subscription or service without their knowledge or consent;
  • Stealth alerts, where users are tricked into agreeing to notifications or alerts that they do not want;
  • And sneak previews, where users are shown a limited or low-quality version of a product or service and are then prompted to pay for the full version.

These techniques are highly effective at tricking users and can be very profitable for companies that use them.

However, they are also highly unethical, as they violate users’ trust and exploit their lack of knowledge or understanding. As such, dark patterns are highly controversial and have been widely criticized by user experience designers, consumer advocacy groups, and regulators.

One of the key reasons why dark patterns are so effective is that they exploit the inherent biases and limitations of the human mind.

For example, many dark patterns rely on the human tendency to take the path of least resistance or to follow social norms and expectations. This can lead users to make choices that they would not have made if they had been fully aware of their options, or if they had been given more time and information to consider their options.

Another reason why dark patterns are so effective is that they can be difficult to detect, especially for users who are not familiar with them.

Many dark patterns are subtle and nuanced and can be easily hidden or disguised within the overall design of a website or app. This means that users may not even realize that they have been tricked, or may not be able to identify the specific techniques that were used to manipulate them.

The use of dark patterns can also have serious consequences for users, as they can lead to financial loss, privacy violations, and other forms of harm. For example, users who are tricked into purchasing unnecessary products or services may waste money and resources, and may also suffer from frustration and disappointment. Similarly, users who are tricked into sharing personal information may be at risk of identity theft, fraud, and other forms of cybercrime.

Despite the negative impact of dark patterns, many companies continue to use them, as they can be highly profitable in the short term.

However, this profit comes at a high cost, as the use of dark patterns can damage a company’s reputation and trust, and can also lead to legal and regulatory penalties.

For example, companies that use dark patterns as a common practice may face fines and penalties from regulators and the government. And, under certain circumstances, these companies may also be sued by groups of consumers who have been harmed by their unethical practices.

Common UX/UI dark patterns

Dark patterns are user interface design techniques that are used to trick or deceive users into taking actions they may not have otherwise taken. These can include things like misleading buttons, hidden costs, and opt-out rather than opt-in options. Here are some common examples of dark patterns in UX/UI design:

  1. “Sneak into basket”: This is when a website or app adds an additional item to a user’s shopping cart without their knowledge or consent. This can be done by pre-selecting a checkbox or hiding the additional item behind a button or link.
  2. “Misdirection”: This is when a website or app uses a misleading heading or label to steer users toward a desired outcome. For example, a button labeled “Skip” might actually lead to a subscription or purchase.
  3. “Bait-and-switch”: This is when a website or app promises one thing and then delivers another. For example, an ad for a free trial might lead to a subscription or purchase.
  4. “Forced action”: This is when a website or app makes it difficult or impossible for users to opt out of action. For example, the content of a pop-up block until the user agrees to receive notifications.
  5. Misdirection”: This is when a website or app uses a misleading heading or label to steer users toward a desired outcome. For example, a button labeled “Skip” might actually lead to a subscription or purchase.
  6. “Hidden costs”: This is when a website or app hides additional costs or fees until after a user has committed to a purchase or subscription.
  7. “Roach Motel”: This is when a website or app makes it easy for users to sign up for a service or make a purchase, but difficult or impossible for them to cancel or unsubscribe.
  8. “Privacy Zuckering”: This is when a website or app uses social pressure to encourage users to share personal information. For example, by showing how many of the user’s friends have already signed up.

These are some of the common examples of dark patterns, but there are many others. The goal of dark patterns is often to increase profits or engagement by manipulating user behavior. It’s important for designers to be aware of these techniques and to avoid using them in their own work.

How to avoid Dark Patterns

To avoid the use of dark patterns, companies and designers should focus on creating user experiences that are transparent, honest, and fair. This means providing users with clear and accurate information about their choices and options and giving them the time and space to make informed decisions.

It also means avoiding manipulation and deception and treating users with respect and dignity. By adopting these principles, companies and designers can create user experiences that are both profitable and ethical, and that builds trust and loyalty among their users.

To continue learning about this topic, please check out these two posts “How To Convince Others Not To Use Dark Patterns” and “The Danger of Dark Patterns (With Infographic)