SWUX: Dark patterns in UX

SWUX: Dark patterns in UX

Dark patterns in UX presented by Dylan Thomas (@DylanLT) at SWUX September 2013. Dylan explained what dark patterns are and how they are used in UX, he also gave examples of some large companies who are currently using them to their advantage.

A short guide to be evil

  • Dark patterns are the dirty tricks designers use to make people do stuff. Designed with a good knowledge of human psychology they manipulate or deceive users with traps and pitfalls.
  • Whilst we think about dark patterns in the online world they are often used in the physical world as well.
  • A great online resource is http://darkpatterns.org.
  • The dark triad theory suggests there are 3 personality types which are bad/evil, they are narcissistic, psychopathic and Machiavellianism.
    • Machiavellianism refers to personal gain and manipulation which is a strong part of dark patterns.
  • There are many types of cognitive bias which play into dark patterns including:
    • Confirmation bias
    • In group bias
    • Gambler's fallacy - How previous results effect the next result
    • Post purchase rationalisation
    • Neglecting probability
    • Project bias
    • Anchoring effect

Why use dark patterns?

  • When you exist in an aggressive environment where targets focus on simple KPIS, more clicks, sign ups and sales then dark patterns are often deployed.
  • People who are focused on profit, greed or have a blinkered view on success will also use dark patterns.

Hello nurses: The NHS waiting room example

The NHS imposed a rule where their waiting rooms must see everyone within 5 minutes of their arrival into the waiting room. To meet these criteria the hello nurse was introduced, someone who would meet you straight away but offer no real help or assistance.

Hello nurses results in the success of the task, everyone was seen within 5 minutes but it provided no benefit to the patient.

Different types of dark patterns

Roach Motel

  • Interfaces which make it very easy to get in to something but hard to get out.
  • Email newsletters often use the roach motel technique, websites make it very easy to sign up but then make it hard to unsubscribe.
  • Bad navigation, confusing forms, multiple newsletter categories and having no online options are common techniques of roach motels.

Forced continuity

  • Often seen with free trials where you have to enter valid credit card details to take part.
  • Once you have signed up it becomes hard to cancel and you're given no reminders.

Hidden costs

  • Adding costs on at the end of a process is a dark pattern which occurs more and more.
  • Ticketmaster is a great example where you may encounter facility, convenience, order processing and printing charges after you've chosen your tickets.

Trick question

The Royal Mail uses dark patterns to trick users into signing up for third party services
The Royal Mail uses dark patterns to trick users into signing up for third party services.
  • Trick questions rely on the understanding of how people interoperate content on a page, we know a user isn't going to read every word and will often scan text in patterns.
  • Trick questions place suggestive text in key areas whilst hiding important facts in areas you will often skip.
  • An example of this is a drop down selection asking you to make a choice whilst the label to the side indicates this is an optional field that may incur a cost. Users will skip the label and just read the action on the drop down itself.
  • The Royal Mail personal registration page is a prime example of this technique
    • At the bottom of the page the first set of check boxes say "if you do not ... then click them", whilst the second set say "if you do ... then click them". Many users will not read the in between text and end up subscribing to the second set unintentionally.

Disguised adverts

  • Adverts which are disguised to look like buttons or the actions that you want.

Should we use these techniques?

  • UX should always put the user first and influencing users isn't always evil, it's rarely black and white.
  • If you anger users they are less likely to return, dark patterns often get more return now but less in the longer term.
  • Always understand what you are influencing your users to do and have empathy.
  • Keep a holistic view of success and promote benefits of user centred design.
  • Never game the system, make the best experience you can.
  • Remember not to deceive the user and don't be evil.
Dylan Thomas presents dark patterns in UX
Dylan Thomas presents dark patterns in UX.