CL Simplex

UX: Dark Patterns

UX: Dark Patterns

A rather obscure piece of jargon, but an important one in our user experience discussions! As content managers and web developers have worked together to make websites easier to use and have worked together to ensure their goals are being met, sometimes meeting that goal involves tricking users. When monetizing users is your biggest priority and your manager wants the job done at any cost, you reach for Dark Patterns.

Dark Patterns

A Dark Pattern is the opposite of good user experience. Dark Patterns abuse the conventions of good UX to instead trick users into performing actions they normally would not want to perform. This is an intentional effort! Unfortunately these Dark Patterns prey on users who are not as savvy or familiar with technology, but experienced users can be tricked as well!

Examples of Dark Patterns in Real Life

Dark Patterns occur in real life all the time! Once you read a couple examples, you'll have an intuitive idea of what a dark pattern is. Think of all the times a car mechanic has screwed you or someone you know over. Charging for headlight fluid is a Dark Pattern. Curse you, shady car mechanics!

Exit Through the Gift Store

Any building that has it's only exit go through the gift shop has usually laid it's floorplan out with dark patterns. This one is not so much of a dark pattern as it's pretty clear what the intention is - maybe just poor user experience (their floorplan is optimized for merchandising versus you having the best experience possible.)

Bait and Switch

An example of a dark pattern in real life is the bait and switch. You show up because you saw a deal is available - but once you get there you find out the deal is over, but hey, here's something else you can buy...The bait and switch is an oldie. This often happens online, the website could even pretend to be broken only giving you the non-discounted offer or forcing you to take another avenue to get what you came for.

Informercial Free Trails

Just pay separate shipping and handling! The free products infomercials offer to send people always come with shipping and handling strings attached. If you want to return the product "absolutely free" - it usually involves paying for the shipping and handling to send it back to their warehouse. This dark pattern is an invisible barrier that appears only after you've paid them. See cellphone companies and their "30 day cancellation notice" clauses.

Dark Patterns on the Web

Now that we have a common idea of what a dark pattern is - we'll look at a single web example. Just like anything else, people have gotten really creative when it comes to making the internet a worse place.


Confirm Shaming is simply having options - and the "No Thanks" option is worded to make you sound stupid, or to otherwise shame you into accepting the offer or putting your email in the box. "I would rather pay full price," or "I'll miss out on this offer" are examples. This could be misplaced humour, but it remains a dark pattern.

Dark Patterns

There are a lot of dark patterns! Adding hidden charges at the last step of an online transaction, opt-out mailing list/privacy settings, etc. The best defense against them is mere recognition. Once again, your impeccable taste in blogging has also made you a better participant in our digital economy! Generally speaking, you want to do business with organizations that place the user first.

There are so many other examples. Forced Arbitration clauses in contracts, Modal Spam, Hidden Steps in transactions, Vendor Lock-in...Lots of people have spent a lot of time coming up with ways to mess with other people.

We will skip the ethical considerations of tricking consumers (in summary: it is bad) or the when/why people use these tricks. While from an economic, bottom-line, deadline oriented perspective we can empathize with people using shotgun marketing strategies and Dark Patterns - we strongly suspect they cannot empathize with us, the users.


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