How to Spot and Avoid Dark Patterns on the Internet
Have you ever noticed that online accounts are incredibly easy to register, but difficult to close? Sometimes the option to close an account is exactly where you might think it is, but other times you need to hunt it down by clicking menu after menu until you finally find that you can’t close it online, you really need to call.
This phenomenon has a name – dark patterns. And these aren’t just hidden account deletion options. Dark templates are design gimmicks that a website uses specifically to get you to sign up, make a purchase, subscribe, or change your mind about leaving – basically to do what the company wants you to do. This is the dark side of UX.
This video from The Nerdwriter helpsfully explains dark patterns and gives some classic examples of the different types you might come across on the web. It can also be viewed at darkpatterns.org , a site created by UX researcher Harry Brinnull . The site also has a Hall of Shame with examples collected on Twitter and a more detailed description of the different types of dark pattern .
For example, one common dark pattern is called a roach motel because it is easy to get into but hard to get out of. This method is heavily used on Amazon.com, which hides its “Close Account” option deep in multi-level context menus. If you ever find him, it turns out that you need to start a chat and ask Amazon to close your account for you, which of course gives them another chance to dissuade you from doing so.
Another example in the video is ads displayed on touchscreen devices that make it seem like a speck of dust is sticking to your screen. When you are about to erase it, you will most likely accidentally click on an ad. Doesn’t that mean?
Luckily, dark patterns have something in common with poor kerning and unnecessary quotation marks : once you start noticing them, you’ll start seeing them all over the place. Less than an hour after watching the video posted above, I saw this tweet that Google hopes to confuse potential users looking for DuckDuckGo . This is a dark pattern.
And, of course, we’ve seen a lot of dark patterns where sites that collect and sell data from users suddenly had to expose it and allow people to opt out after the GDRP rules went into effect this May. Remember that UX nightmare from Tumblr? By ditching the “clear all” button, the designers clearly hoped you’d give up.
Noticing dark patterns is the key to preventing them. And the more you see, the less likely you are to trust the companies that force these tricks on their customers.
Whenever you see dark patterns used in the wild, take a screenshot and post it with the hashtag #darkpatterns. Mention the company behind this to put them to shame a little, and retweet any other #darkpatterns tweets you see. Hopefully, if companies realize that people think this is unethical, they will consider adopting more honest design patterns.
Good companies will do it anyway. The bad ones will come up with something even more vile … which we have to call “even darker patterns.”