DesignX Discussions: What is a dark UX pattern you most dislike?

Every week, we pose a question to our members to shake up the conversation and involve everybody. In this #TopicOfTheWeek recap, we share our experiences and examples of dark UX patterns we’ve encountered.

Since the implementation of GDPR and news of Facebook’s data breach, dark patterns in UX have emerged as a recurring topic of impassioned discussion in the industry. It’s been a recognized issue for some time but it is finally gaining traction in design conversations.

Who could have predicted upon inception, the modern day portable computer could be used as a medium to strategically target users and manipulate behaviour? But from desktop to mobile and the internet of things, there are many shapes of dark patterns that design could take. It’s all over the blogosphere and at the fingertips of research bodies and audit agencies. Back in June 2018, Forbrukerradet, the Consumer Council of Norway, released a document focusing on how companies use dark patterns to interfere with user privacy, primarily using Facebook, Google, and Windows 10 as key examples. UXP2 Lab at Purdue University has also begun identifying and raising awareness of the five types of dark patterns:

  • Nagging
  • Obstruction
  • Sneaking
  • Interface interference
  • Forced action

We’ve all come across examples ourselves, that fall somewhere in and between these categories. Some of the biggest corporations are guilty of using these tactics to manipulate user behaviour, ranging from ones that users don’t even notice to ones that are so obvious and obnoxious but still successful, simply because they require a great deal of effort to try and fight it. More often than not, users are forced to click ‘remind me later’ instead of searching high and low for the ‘remind me never again’ button.

Our community members shared their harrowing experiences from e-commerce sites to unsubscribe buttons and persistent suggestions to sync all contacts (*cough LinkedIn *cough).

Thomas Lowry fired up the conversation with one of the more costly results of dark UX; forced continuity in subscription and billing:

Lowry also noted that certain subscriptions are made to be unnecessarily difficult to unsubscribe, requiring a hundred clicks to downgrade or cancel:

Outside of software, email newsletters are also notorious for being impossible to unsubscribe from. While most email subscriptions are set as a two-click process (click unsubscribe in the footer and be directed to a radio button form where you choose why you no longer wish to receive these emails, followed by a halfway satisfactory confirmation), Han Bang shared an all-too-familiar example of having to check off every single mailing list she didn’t realize she was explicitly a part of.

Tom Creighton noted that when we click unsubscribe, it is never an accident and companies need not ask for an additional click to confirm otherwise:

With the seasons changing, we’re all starting to think about our next vacation; where, when, and how. If you start looking around for flights though, you’ll notice flight aggregators and airlines often have interface interference embedded into the UX design.

In an effort to compete for more views, engagement, and profit, companies have been known to use UI design to shift focus away from hidden costs, unrequired upgrades, and an “are you sure you want to do what we don’t want you to do” question at the end, manipulating users to reconsider before completing the purchase.

Even while using a browser in the most basic way, our ad blockers cause a stream of dark patterns like these:

When the alternative to turning off an ad blocker forces users to click a button that says, “I am a bad person,” well, how rude! Messages like these remind us to appreciate nice copywriting when we see it.

Considering the cornucopia of dark patterns, there can be just as many ways to design good ones. As designers, we are apt to claim human-centred empathy in our products but may be guilty of not considering every possibility of our decisions. By shifting the focus from clicks and other immediate targets to designs that delight, simplify, and improve the lives of users, we can strengthen the quality of the brand and loyalty of clients. Designing ethically also means predicting and avoiding unfortunate consequences as well and taking said extra measures to create joyful products will ultimately lead to business success overall. Let’s use examples from this discussion as lessons on what not to do and improve our chances of diverging away from dark UX patterns while leaving a positive mark on the landscape of good design and interactions.


Other interesting reads:


What about you? Where have you noticed some of these dark patterns in the digital space and how would you improve on those designs? Share your ideas below, or join our Slack group and connect with other like-minded creatives in your community.