UX has great power to either help or mislead the user.
At CreateApe, we often talk about how important it is to gain the user’s trust. Companies should want users to feel good about their websites by helping them seamlessly and safely accomplish their goals.
But when money enters the picture, some web designers prioritize numbers and sales over the user’s convenience. This leads to deceptive practices that manipulate users into bogus agreements that cost them their privacy — and often their money.
These practices are called dark UX patterns, and it’s when user experience turns into user exploitation.
Avoid these 5 common dark patterns:
- Forced Continuity
How many of us have signed up for free trials and then never canceled them? It can end up costing the user several hundred dollars a year without them ever noticing. Companies ask you for credit card information to protect their assets and ensure they don’t keep giving out free services.
The problem happens when the user doesn’t know when their trial is over and they get charged without a warning. Or when companies make it blatantly difficult to cancel.
Combat this by making it easier for the user to opt-out of the free trial before charging them. Send a notification that the trial period is ending, and don’t bury cancellation links in giant walls of text.
- Privacy Zuckering
We know, we’re just as annoyed with the lack of transparency around data mining as you are. Remember when Mark Zuckerberg went to court over Facebook privacy breaches? Well, now he has a UX dark pattern named after him.
This term was coined by UX designer Harry Brignull in his online guide to dark patterns. He defines this as the practice of tricking the user into giving up more of their private information than they normally would with jargon-y language in Terms of Service agreements. They take advantage of our tendency to scan without reading the fine print to lead us into giving out sensitive information.
The good news is that many online platforms became much more transparent about collecting our data after this incident (mostly to avoid legal action, but that’s still worth something). There is now an expectation that the user is made aware when their data is collected.
- Trick Questions
In UX, the words on your page are just as important as the visual elements. And some designers deliberately try to confuse their users to get them to agree to something they don’t want.
Trick questions are often layered, using clever wording or double negatives to create cognitive dissonance. Sometimes they make it impossible to opt-out of mailing lists by lumping everything in with Terms of Service agreements.
At the end of the day, clarity is key. The user’s consent matters — and tricking users creates an ethical dilemma that goes against the principles of UX. The user should always have agency and designers must create that sense of agency with clear, unambiguous messaging.
A distracting design could be completely harmless, or it could have an ulterior motive. Many dark patterns utilize some form of misdirection by guiding the user’s attention to a specific place to distract them from something else.
Think of a time you bought something expensive online and the website tried to add some unnecessary insurance. Did you think there was no way to get around adding insurance? Or did they hide the option to skip insurance somewhere else on the page?
Misdirection is easily avoidable in UX with color theory, minimalist designs, and grouping related options closely together in the interface. Always remember that your user should be able to complete their goals easily, without distraction.
- Hidden Costs/Fees
Everyone knows there are taxes and shipping charges that make the checkout cost more than the advertised price. That’s not where the problem is.
The problem is when websites tack on unnecessary hidden fees at the last stage of check out. How expensive has a delivery or small cart fee made your online takeout order? These types of fees vary in cost, but they can start to add up after a while.
Let your users know about any additional charges at the first stage of check out. If they go through the entire process to see their order is way more expensive than initially anticipated right before they place it, they’ll leave feeling frustrated with the experience.
So Why Is This Important?
While the results from dark patterns lead to short-term gratification, the user will eventually catch on and there will be no foundation of trust to build off of. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to companies finding new ways to digitally dupe their users.
At the end of the day, it’s best to bank on honesty and follow UX best practices.