As Uncle Ben wisely put it: “with great power, comes great responsibility.” As designers, we learn how people interact with an interface in order to make it better, smoother, and easier to use. However, this power and understanding can be used to trick users into a path that they did not choose. These tricks are known as Dark Patterns. They are not mistakes in the design, but deliberate choices that disregard the user’s best interest.
The dark side of UI Design
Although it can happen that a Dark Pattern emerges out of a mistake or carelessness on the designers end, it’s often deliberate work. The worst part of intentional Dark Patterns are the ones that you do not recognize as such. They are intended to be hidden and simply get you to accept a condition that you didn’t specify.
A simple method that is often used is a pre-checked check box. Most of the time this is done to save the user unnecessary interactions that can lead to mistakes, or to show what the person on the other side of the screen wants the user to do. This is a generally accepted UI pattern, but it can quickly become a Dark Pattern when you are using them to trick a user. For example, if I have multiple check boxes in a page, but my dark pattern is separated from the other cluster, you may ignore it and just hit that next button.
Add a cute image, and it could further help distract your eyes. Click here to see this pattern in action!
Some of the examples of Dark Patterns are not visual cues, but changes in words. Some pesky designers include language that is difficult to understand; or vocabulary that reads like it could the definition of one item, but actually is defining another thing. Businesses can get users to complete an undesired action by clouding the user’s understanding. This is particularly effective when combined with visual methods of creating Dark Patterns.
A simple example of this is Apple’s iOS “Limit Ad Tracking” Feature. This option is buried deep into your iPhone’s settings (check under privacy, all the way down where it says advertising). The feature allows advertisers to receive information about your usage, and what you are interested in. This feature is great to avoid seeing ads that are completely irrelevant to you; and turning it off won’t actually reduce the amount of ads that you do see. However, in order to actually turn this off, you have to find it, and then turn it “on”. This counter-intuitive method of limiting ad tracking can lead some consumers into doing the opposite of what they intended when viewing this option.
What are some Dark Patterns that you have found out there? And if you are interested in more design discussions check these out!