Dark UX Case Studies and What Actions You Can Take

Have you ever felt frustrated that you had to jump through hoops to cancel an account? Or surprised to find products in your shopping cart that you didn’t deliberately add?

Then you are a victim of Dark UX 😱

Darkness comes into play when the UX design is manipulative and forces users to take actions that they probably wouldn’t do if they fully understood the situation.

As designers, we have the power and responsibility to design products that solve our customer’s problems. Realistically, we also need our job to pay the bills and our student loans. So we may come across a crossroads where a client asks us to design a product that serves the best interests of the business than the customer. So what do you do when your values are compromised and you’re afraid to speak up? How do you champion for the customer without risking your job? I attended The World Usability Day meetup and learned the strategies and actions I can take to navigate conflict business and user goals.

UX and Tackling Sustainability Issues

For the first talk, Jill Vacarra illuminates how dark UX patterns and sustainability are intertwined.

When you’re done watching the first episode of Stranger Things, Netflix auto-loads to the next episode in 5 seconds.

Users lose control of making the decision to stop watching

Hours later, you are binge watching until the season’s over. Think about all the energy that is used to power these addictive behaviors that Netflix has influenced. In terms of data storage, a lot of energy is used to cool down the data centers storing photos or files in the cloud than if it was stored on a local hard drive. There’s also a whole debate over bitcoin mining’s impact on the environment.

But there is hope! ✨ Clean energy is becoming cheaper such as LED lights and EV batteries and companies like Tesla are making green look sexy.

As designers we can advocate for sustainable product development. Reducing page load time and performance optimization are ways we can reduce our carbon footprint.

Jill encourages us to evaluate how the products we build and scale will leave a carbon footprint.

UPS drivers avoid left turns and the company has saved millions of gas, reduced emissions, and has reduced the number of accidents.

Appealing Design That Is Accessible and Inclusive

Imagine you present the 14th iteration of a design to a client and he or she finally approves of the design. You feel relieved that you can hand off the design to the development team and you can finally move on towards the next project. However, you find out that your design doesn’t meet accessibility standards and when you raise this issue to the client, the issue gets dismissed and the case gets closed.

In the second talk, Michael Newcomb shared how he has failed users and provides insight on how to avoid the mistakes he’s done. When you raise an accessibility issue to a stakeholder, how can you advocate for the user and your voice to be heard? Michael proposes the tactic of using emotional and rational appeals in moments of conflicting business and user goals. For example:

People with different abilities and backgrounds interact with our products. As designers we have the responsibility in making design more inclusive and accessible.

Uber provides wheelchair-accessible rides and Spanish-speaking drivers to their users

Dark vs. Light UI

In macOS Mojave, a user can switch to dark mode. We can anticipate that other products will follow in Apple’s steps. With dark UI on the horizon, Skot Carruth addresses the usability and accessibility issues associated with dark UI. There are a few considerations to make when choosing between light vs. dark UI.

Evernote is encouraging me to join the dark side


People with astigmatism (approximately 50% of the population) find it harder to read white text on black than black text on white. Part of this has to do with light levels: with a bright display (white background) the iris closes a bit more, decreasing the effect of the “deformed” lens; with a dark display (black background) the iris opens to receive more light and the deformation of the lens creates a much fuzzier focus at the eye (Jason Harrison — Post Doctoral Fellow, Imager Lab Manager — Sensory Perception and Interaction Research Group, University of British Columbia).

However, if your users are using your product for consecutive hours, dark UI will save users from a lot of eye strain caused by computer vision syndrome.

Code editors and the Adobe suite app are examples of products using dark UI source

Match your user’s environment

It’s important to analyze your target audience and when they interact with your products. Users usually watch Netflix or Amazon Video after work or at night and the dark UI mirrors a user’s environment. Google maps automatically changes from a light to a dark UI based on the time of day.

Amazon video uses dark UI to match when a user interacts with the product
Medium allows you to toggle between light and dark mode

Dark is associated with being mysterious and elegant; take the time to understand the tone you want your brand to communicate with your audience. Finding the balance between usable and sexy is an interesting problem to solve.

Concluding Insights

After the meetup, I reflected on the responsibility I have as a designer and the power to influence a user’s behavior. The decisions I make can positively or negatively affect the environment and another person’s lifestyle.

I can make a positive impact day by day by using the Stark Sketch plugin to check if there is enough color contrast. On a larger scale, I can collaborate with my design and product team to ensure our design system meets accessible guidelines.

If a client rejects the idea of accessibility compliance, I hope you feel more confident in using emotional and rational appeals to persuade the client otherwise. I challenge you to become an active advocate and voice for your users. Meg Robichaud sums it up that “You can’t just draw purple people and call it diversity”. When we invest in ethical design and product development, we shape a better future. Our clients will thank us and our users will love us.

Thank you Jill, Michael, and Skot for sharing your wisdom on dark UX and UXPALA for hosting an informative event!

This article was originally written for UXPA of LA’s November Newsletter 2018