Dark Patterns in UX (with 15 examples) in 2023
What are Dark UX Patterns?
Dark patterns are design elements intentionally crafted to trick and manipulate people into taking actions they didn't intend to.
You'll come across them almost every day.
They use psychology to bypass principles like reactance (which is the resistance people feel when they perceive that their freedom of choice is being restricted).
In this article, we'll shine a light on dark patterns, providing examples and insights on how to steer clear of them. And also, what to do instead to get long-lasting results.
Why might people use Dark UX Patterns?
They work. At least in the short term. And many people focus on quick metrics to show success.
Boosting this months turnover might look great but what if these tactics backfire — bad reviews, mistrust, these newly gained customers flocking to the competition because they no longer trust you.
Long-term these tactics can cost a lot. So we advise being aware of them, and avoiding them.
Examples of Dark Patterns in UX
Here are some examples of dark patterns.
This pattern uses visual cues to lead users into making unintended decisions.
Example: During checkout, a website may use a bright colour and larger font for an "Add Insurance" button to divert attention from the "Continue" button.
Concealing or downplaying additional fees or charges until later in the process.
Example: An online ticket booking site may initially show a low ticket price, but only after entering personal information, extra fees are added for processing and service charges.
Attracting users with one offer, only to switch it with a less desirable option later.
Example: A software download page might prominently display a "Free Version" button, but after installation, it only provides a trial period and asks for payment.
Making it easy for users to get into a situation, but difficult to get out.
Example: A subscription service might make it simple to sign up, but require a lengthy and complicated process to cancel the subscription.
Using guilt or shame to pressure users into taking certain actions.
Example: When unsubscribing from a mailing list, a website might say "Are you sure you want to miss out on our amazing deals?" with "Yes" and "No" options.
Making advertisements look like regular content to deceive users.
Example: Placing ads on a webpage with a similar layout, colour scheme, and typography as the surrounding content to make them blend in.
Making it difficult for users to cancel or unsubscribe from a service.
Example: A streaming service might make it hard to find the cancel subscription button, or require users to go through multiple confirmation steps.
Sneak into Basket
Adding extra items to a user's shopping cart without clear consent.
Example: An e-commerce site might automatically add accessories or insurance to a cart during the checkout process without the user's explicit consent.
Importing a user's contact list to send invitations or messages without clear consent.
Example: Social media platforms might encourage users to connect their email contacts, then send invites to everyone on the list without explicit permission.
Using confusing or misleading language to manipulate user choices.
Example: A website might ask, "Do you want to stay uninformed?" with options "Yes" and "No", implying that choosing "Yes" is a poor decision.
Making it difficult for users to control or understand their privacy settings.
Example: Social media platforms might use confusing language and multi-step processes to hide or change privacy settings, discouraging users from doing so.
Burying the option to decline or opt out of certain features or services.
Example: A software installer might have a pre-selected checkbox for installing a browser toolbar, with the actual opt-out option placed in a less prominent location.
Defaulting to an opt-in, rather than opt-out for things like newsletters.
Example: A newsletter signup form might have a pre-checked box saying "Subscribe me to the newsletter", making it easy to accidentally subscribe.
Dark Patterns in Ads
Using misleading or deceptive techniques in online advertisements.
Example: Clickbait ads with fake "Download Now" buttons that lead users to unrelated websites or prompt unwanted downloads.
Concealing additional costs or fees until the final step of a transaction.
Example: A travel booking website might not show mandatory resort fees until the user reaches the final booking step, leading to an unexpected cost.
What to do instead
People value trust, honesty and transparency more than ever. They will pay more and become more loyal to a brand they feel understands them, and isn't out to trick them.
With that in mind here are more ethical strategies you can implement instead.
Clear and Transparent Information
Provide users with clear and transparent information about the consequences of their actions. Make sure they understand what will happen if they choose a certain option.
Gradually reveal information or features as the user interacts with the interface. This prevents overwhelming users with too many choices at once.
Provide Meaningful Options
Offer users choices that are genuinely useful and relevant to them. Avoid presenting options that only benefit the business.
Tailor the user experience to individual preferences and behaviour. This can make users feel more in control and reduce reactance.
Empowerment Through Customisation
Allow users to customise their experience. This gives them a sense of ownership and control over the interface.
Encourage Informed Decisions
Provide educational content or tooltips that help users understand the implications of their choices.
Set default options that align with what most users would likely choose if they understood the implications. Allow users to change these defaults easily.
Use Social Proof Responsibly
While social proof (e.g., showing how many people have taken a certain action) can influence decisions, it should be used ethically and truthfully.
A/B Testing with Ethical Considerations
If you're conducting A/B testing, make sure the variations are ethically designed and don't exploit users' cognitive biases.
Feedback and Confirmation
Always provide clear feedback after a user takes an action, and give them the opportunity to confirm their choices before finalising them.