Why You Need to Know About the Absolute Worst Dark Pattern in UX


First of all, what’s a dark pattern? I’ll get to that shortly. But in marketing terms it’s like white-hat versus black-hat. Before we discuss that — a pop quiz: what’s the easiest way to lose a customer forever?

The answer: charge their credit card when they least expect it. Why? Well for starters, charging someones card without them knowing is akin to walking up behind them, stealing their wallet, running their card and then returning their wallet. This has happened to me multiple times and by some major brands. I won’t name names for my own sake but it’s usually in the form of a recurring online subscription or a new subscription I didn’t even realize I had signed up for.

Now for the most part I consider myself a smart person. But as someone who has marketing experience, even I can become a victim of what is known in the UX field as a ‘dark pattern’. A dark pattern is a black-hat method, or a technique used by companies, marketers, SEO experts or other professionals to deceive the user to perform an action or to misdirect the user.

For example, you might purchase a product online and as you proceed to the checkout, you might not notice a few checkboxes clicked indicating that you’ve purchased additional products. Other examples include hidden fees, unintentional subscriptions, convoluted terms and conditions, etc.

Some dark patterns can be unintentional as well. You might use a green coloured button throughout your entire user interface, and as soon as you apply that colour to say, a close box, or an exit button, you might unintentionally confuse the user. Where the user was expecting a positive response or association, you’ve misdirected them.

As for me, I remember clearly waking up one morning to find a charge on my credit card for $240. That’s when my blood pressure rose. I remember signing up to a promotion and being pleased by their offering but little did I know that I was signing up for their yearly subscription almost three months away. Maybe it was hidden in some checkbox? I still don’t know or remember. Luckily for me and for them I got a refund. The easier solution would have been for them to send out an email notification letting me know that they were about to charge my card, with the option of opting in or out. At least then I could have considered the service.

Why do companies use dark patterns?

The answer is usually the bottom line or for some marketers and CEOs, it’s to move the needle forward. In a metrics driven world we need to see our metrics climb. But this is usually short term thinking. You might make some money when your customers ignore the charge, or don’t take the time or effort to resolve it, but if you’re not careful, you could quite easily lose a customer for the long term, or forever. If you ask me, anything that triggers such a negative and even physical response is probably bad for business.

Avoid dark patterns. Do the right thing.

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