The Dark Side of the UX Force

One night, during a recent UX conference, I was eating with a group of conference speakers and fellow attendees. Burgers and beer were flowing freely when I unwittingly mentioned “Wouldn’t it be cool if someone from Zynga gave a presentation on Dark UX?”

Jaws dropped. A table of UX VPs, strategists and directors fell silent.

“Did you just make that up?” someone asks.

This is an interesting situation. As practicing UX professionals we know that we are directly influencing human actions and behavior. Among this group of industry experts the very thought of the Dark Side had never formed.

What is Dark UX? Here’s how darkpatterns.org defines it:

A Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.

Essentially it’s old fashioned manipulation. By reversing people’s natural behavior and expectations someone with malintent can accomplish terrible goals.

The fact that this hadn’t occurred to a group of UX experts is telling that our industry is inherently honest. Articles over at A List Apart and UX Mag point the finger at marketing and sales departments as a way to boost their numbers.

Wherever this practice originates, we as UX practitioners should be able to recognize when we’re asked to design dark patterns so we don’t manipulate our users and stay on the Light Side of the UX Force.

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