Understanding Dark Patterns

Have you ever had a hard time trying to unsubscribe from a service or email list? Or have you even received ads and emails that you did not remember signing up for? These are just a few examples of how dark patterns work, one of the most annoying and deceptive occurrences on the internet. If you would like to know more about what exactly they are and how they damage your brand, simply read on. 

What are dark patterns? 

Dark patterns are particularly chosen and carefully crafted interface designs online created to trick users into doing something they may not want to do. This  can take on many forms: signing up for an email list, buying an additional product at the checkout, or subscribing for a premium service or newsletter. 

However, sometimes what people refer to as dark patterns can just be features of bad UI/UX (user interface/experience). These can be bugs and other features that accidentally make it harder to opt out of a certain service. But most of the time, they are designed to deceive the user purposefully.  

This kind of strategy may work in the short run. But after consumers realize they were deceived, they will usually be frustrated and angry at the business or website, given they can find out how they were tricked and who tricked them.  Often, users are willing to share their bad experience on social media, which spreads the word about bad business practices. This can mean that, in the long run, websites adopting these practices will not build a loyal customer base. This is why it is important to make sure that your website is not using any dark patterns. We will talk about this more below so that you will be able to spot these flaws on your (or someone else’s) website. 

Fool me once

Humans are creatures of habit and we are used to certain patterns or keywords online. For example, a green button usually means something good: accepting or “green-lighting” something, whereas a red button usually means the exact opposite. The way a dark pattern operates is by taking patterns that are familiar to us (a red button is bad) and turning them on their head now, following the button example, suddenly a red button could mean that we are accepting something we did not want. 

Another example is the use of buttons with the same color and design for two different functions: progressing or buying a product, for instance. The consumer may click the same button to progress in the check-out of an online store, and might then see a button for purchasing the product with the same design.  

Of course, not everyone is so easily deceived by this. But the majority of people will be tricked into clicking on such a button out of habit or because they may not be paying as much attention. This dark-pattern strategy is often referred to as “Sneak into basket”, which is a term coined by Harry Brignull, the UX specialist who first came up with the term “dark patterns”.  

Fool me twice

Another very common phenomenon that occurs online is when it is very difficult to unsubscribe or opt out of a service because there does not seem to be a clear indication of how to go about this. One such strategy is to make this process overly complicated or boring with a lot of text to get through. This is done to appeal to a user’s “lazy bone”  dark patterners want you take the path of least resistance, effectively trapping you in their web. 

You might have also noticed that sometimes you receive emails which you did not sign up for. When you try to unsubscribe, you may end up at a screen which asks you to type in your email once again before unsubscribing this email can then be used for all sorts of other spammy mails, creating a vicious cycle.  

When purchasing products online, dark patterns can abound at every corner. From the cookie-accepting process to the choosing of an item, all the way to the check-out area. This requires the user to pay a lot of attention when browsing the internet; if they do not, they may end up with things they did not want.

How do dark patterns affect us?

Dark patterns are aberrations of the best-practice principles of UX online, meaning that professional programmers take features that we are used to and turn them on their head to catch people unawares. If you are consciously trying to create dark patterns on your website, think of the following: it can hurt your brand. 

Consider the following example: a user accesses your website to find some information. They are then met with a pop-up, asking them to buy your newest beauty product. But they do not want to purchase anything and try to close the pop-up; however, the only way to do this is by clicking a button saying, “No, I don’t care about looking pretty.” This is a prime example of dark patterning and is called Confirmshaming, effectively trying to shame a customer into signing up or buying something. If you have something like this on your website, get rid of it because your website visitors will get a negative impression of you and your brand. You may think that this helps with getting customers to buy your product but it will only end up hurting you. 

It is, then, very important to check your website for any overt or covert dark patterns that might appear. Remember that these patterns inspire distrust and will lead to you losing customers or, if they will go the extra mile, it may end up damaging your reputation when your clients leave reviews or tell their friends openly about your deception. It is essential to let your product, your service, or your brand speak for itself. There is no need for deceptive methods to trick users into doing something against their will when it only hurts you in the end. Take the above points and verify that you do not adhere to such patterns and if you do, make sure to eliminate them as fast as possible. 

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