The Dark Side of UX: Deceptive Patterns • Windmill

The Dark Side of UX: Deceptive Patterns

Windmill Editorial Team

User Experience (UX) design seeks to create meaningful products and interfaces that prioritize user empathy and support.     

However, within this realm of design, there exists a darker side characterized by manipulative tactics that undermine user needs and deceive individuals. These tactics, known as dark patterns, have gained attention for their negative impact on user experiences. 

In this blog, we will delve into the various types of dark patterns, shedding light on their nature and exploring the detrimental effects they can have on users.

What are dark patterns in UX design? 

The term dark patterns, also known as deceptive patterns, was introduced by designer Harry Brignull in 2010. Dark patterns are design elements within user interfaces that use deception to manipulate users into engaging in actions they would not have chosen willingly.

Suggested reading: Dark Patterns – Interview of Harry Brignull, the inventor of this concept

What are the main types of dark patterns? 

Dark patterns can be found all over the internet, mobile apps, and business software. From hidden subscriptions and costs to misleading defaults and opt-out tricks — dark patterns can be found everywhere! 

Below, we will discuss four of the most common types of dark patterns that you need to watch out for when browsing the web.

1. The Truman Type

The Truman Type is a group of dark patterns that rely on deception and deceptive disguises. These patterns use a variety of techniques designed to mislead users, luring them into taking actions they may not have intended.

Common examples of the Truman Type include: 

  • Disguised ads: This is one of the most common tactics employed by the Truman Type. By masquerading as something else, these cunning advertisements trick unsuspecting users into clicking on them.
  • Social proof: This uses tactics like false testimonials or an inflated number of likes to sway users by convincing them that a large group of people has already embraced a particular action.
  • Urgency techniques: These are designed to coerce users into immediate action. By bombarding individuals with messages like “Limited time offer!” or “Act now or miss out!”, they aim to induce a state of panic and put pressure on users. 

Like in Truman’s life, these dark patterns aim to create a false sense of trust and acceptance. Users are encouraged to unquestioningly embrace the presented information until they realize that the presented information is, in fact, fake.

2. Hide-and-Seek

This pattern in UX design resembles a child’s game of hide and seek. It adopts a game-like approach where elements and functions within an interface are intentionally hidden, turning the user experience into a challenging puzzle.    

This pattern can manifest in various ways. For example, canceling a subscription might involve navigating a labyrinthine flow, making it difficult for users to find the option to unsubscribe. In some cases, users may find themselves trapped with no apparent way out due to deliberately hidden options that prevent them from canceling a subscription.  

In light of these manipulative tactics, a recent report revealed that more than 90% of people in the UK believe that it should be made illegal for companies to purposely make it difficult to unsubscribe to online services.

3. Interface @#$%! Language  

Every interface communicates with users through language, employing text, visuals, sounds, or a combination of these elements. This dark pattern manipulates users through communication techniques that are designed to play tricks or confuse.

It can involve messing around with button colors, making unsubscribe buttons red or even removing them completely, or throwing confusing questions at users that lead them astray. 

A classic example of this pattern is when websites try to gather your personal information. They might tempt you with an offer like “Leave your email and get a 99% discount” while providing a negative response option such as “No, I’m not smart and don’t want to save money.” 

These tactics may increase conversion rates, but they create an unpleasant experience and leave users feeling annoyed and tricked.

4. Interrupting

No one likes to be interrupted when they’re busy doing a task, so the human brain is wired to reduce the number of external distractions. 

The interrupting pattern taps into our natural aversion to interruptions and seeks to manipulate users by deliberately placing barriers in their path. These barriers hinder the user’s ability to achieve their goals or perform desired actions, often resulting in frustration and reduced productivity.  

Dark patterns in this category employ various strategies to interrupt users repeatedly until they either comply or give up. Examples include:

  • Forcing users to enable notifications
  • Convincing them to subscribe to a service
  • Making it exceptionally difficult to cancel a paid subscription

By intentionally introducing distractions that disrupt the user’s workflow, these patterns force users into making decisions they may not have otherwise chosen.

Final thoughts 

While UX design strives to offer a superior user experience, it’s important to acknowledge the presence of dark patterns that exploit and deceive users. While these tactics may appear to be a quick and effective way to achieve business objectives, it is essential to consider the ethical implications of their use. 

At Windmill, we believe in prioritizing user empathy and support over deceptive strategies. By consciously avoiding the use of dark patterns and embracing ethical design principles, we can build trust with users, enhance their overall experience, and create more successful and sustainable products.

Reach out to discover how our digital product services can help you create user-centric experiences that build trust and drive long-term success.

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