Good and Evil Patterns That Affect User Experience …

Recently I received a ridiculous amount of advertisement emails so I started to unsubscribe one by one. Although most of the email lists are easy to unsubscribe, I had some issues with a few emails. A vendor sends emails to me everyday, and it’s really annoying. After I finally found where the “unsubscribe” button is, I complained that the color contrast is so bad (see the picture below). Just curious, I calculated the color contrast ratio to be 1.3, almost the worst color combination you can possibly use besides putting two same colors together.

At first, I thought it’s just bad design. But after I checked out their other stuff, I realized they must have done this on purpose. Other things on their email are very organized, clean, and easy to read, except the “unsubscribe” button. There must be some evil UX designers playing dark black magic (dirty UX tricks)!

Okay, let’s define the Evil UX Designers — the designers who intentionally sacrifice or utilize user experience for their personal or business benefits.

“You’re getting charged” Emails

Think back, I am no better than anyone else. I was involved in designing an email message that basically says “if you don’t stop your free trial manually, we will start to charge you monthly fees.” I know I should put the most important message first, but instead, the company wants me to make the message muted. So the goal is to make it look just like one of the daily emails and lead users some to think “there is no immediate attention needed”.

“Greetings…” friendly tone tells the users that this email is just a routine thing, like a co-worker you don’t know well saying “how are you” in the company elevator. Many users will quickly ignore the email after reading the subject. A company may choose to use this evil UX spell to make some revenue at the cost of users’ trust, but it also may increase the operating costs because customer service people need to spend more time and energy dealing with cancellation and complaint calls. Some other companies that are purely evil: they don’t even send out reminder emails when they’re about to charge their customers.

Design to manipulate behaviors

Without words, design can definitely manipulate user behaviors. By understanding user’s psychological needs, a design may motivate users to do something without asking. There was an interesting experiment about putting a ‘fly’ onto urinals across different airports over the world. Of course, the fly wasn’t real, it was a drawing.

Based on the theory (maybe observation…) that “men have the instinct to aim”, those “flies” were used to reduce spillage, and it worked! When the “flies” were introduced at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, spillage rate dropped 80% which translates to big savings on maintenance costs.

Good designers know how to motivate users to do things, and they know how to keep users from doing things. Let’s take a look at the world’s greatest search engine Google and its Chinese twin brother Baidu — the most popular search engine in China and the 4th popular website in the world.

These two brothers are similar in every aspect, except one tiny detail: every time you click on a Google search result, you go to a new webpage directly; but when you click on a Baidu search result, it opens the webpage in a new tab. Baidu knows it too well that it’s the search results that prevent users from staying on it. It’s true that, to users, sometimes opening up many tabs on your browser is annoying, but Baidu effectively keeps itself open all the time by adding “target=‘_blank’” to every search result link.

Sohu, one of China’s most popular websites for news, blogs, and multimedia, has kept its “busy” design until now. It does not even have a site-wide search bar (the one in the picture above is a global-wide search, which means it searches the whole Internet). It sacrificed readability, which is a “big deal” in UX, to keep users from finding a specific target directly. Although it forces users to process a huge amount of information, it did work in terms of encouraging users to browse all possible titles and stay longer on the website. That’s the same reason why some supermarket puts food on one side of the store and cleaning products on the other side. They know you need both, so you have to walk around the whole store and are probably going to buy more stuff since you see more products they sell.

I know you’ll sign up for “FREE”

Evil designers know too well what you want and what you’re looking for, and they will use it to trick you. Like in the picture above, the first word I read was the word “Free registration” on the green button (correct me if I’m wrong, I’m colorblind…). What they don’t tell me on this page is that only the registration is “free” (and it should be), after registration, I need to pay a monthly fee to keep using the service.

Time is money, and it’s perfect “opportunity costs”

Evil designers know the best way to make you pay. They let you use or try the product first, and once you made an effort, they ask you to pay. Like the website below, it does not give any hint that you need to pay at the beginning, so you think you can use the service for free? Wrong. While they can argue that “creating” a logo is free, but you really need to pay to “download” the logo you just created (which makes a lot of sense of course).

Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action.

Now you are in dilemma: if you don’t pay, all the time and effort you spent on this will be wasted. You have an “opportunity cost” if you don’t pay for it, so you click on the “Get Premium” now. Same logic goes well for many software free trials. If it’s a “limited-function” free trial, it is not that evil; the evil ones are the “full-function” free trial for a limited amount of time, usually from 7 days to 1 month. You have full access to every amazing feature of the software, no wonder you will try it and finally use it to create many projects and files. At the end of your trial, all the projects you created will be your “opportunity cost” when you consider whether to pay for membership or not. Same thing, if you don’t, all your time and effort will be gone.

I remember several years ago when every game in the App Store is either free or paid up-front. Now, many games, especially those top money-making ones, are free with in-app purchases. Of course, in-app purchase is an easier to make users pay and pay more. Most of those games are completely free to play. If you just begin your journey of the game, you will advance so fast without any problems (you will reach level-10 in a day). But the further you go in the game, the more issues you will encounter. It’s getting slower and slower to upgrade, and longer and longer to wait. And for those games, it doesn’t matter if you’re skilled or not (those games don’t need skills), all you can do to advance is to pay or wait. Think about your “opportunity cost” if you don’t pay, and now you can buy “time” directly through money, isn’t that amazing?