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Dark Patterns: An Unethical Truth

The User Interface of a website is all about selling the product and making it stand out in the eyes of the user. The designs are carefully created after learning the various trends in the market and understanding the user’s requirements.This approach definitely enhances the website’s credibility and provides good results for the business. But when the user is manipulated into making decisions on the webpage that may not necessarily benefit them but rather benefit the business or the website, the practice can be termed as Dark Patterns.

WHAT ARE DARK PATTERNS?

The term was first coined by London based UX designer Harry Brignull when he defined it as, “a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick the user into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.”

Brignull went on to explain that users on the web tend to skim read content on webpages and make various assumptions, essentially turning a blind eye to the “fine print” of the content on the page.

DARK PATTERNS AREN’T NEW!

Interestingly, Dark Patterns have been around longer than we can remember. Maybe not restricted to the web itself, but offline as well. Although it may be something that is completely unethical on the web, offline is another story altogether.

One example that comes to mind is your bi-weekly or monthly visits to the supermarket. The healthier snacks are always placed on the higher shelves so as to catch the eye of adults strolling past in their shopping carts. But little did we notice that the chocolates are always placed on the lower shelves to catch the attention of children walking along with their parents. And 10 times out of 10 we’ve experienced children fighting over that chocolate and in the end wins. So the next time you visit the supermarket and you think the placement of the chocolate on the lower shelf was a coincidence, think Again.

TYPES OF DARK PATTERNS

Now that we’ve established what Dark Patterns are all about, let’s look at their various types.

  1. Bait and Switch: In this Advertising pattern, the user intends to make an action but instead makes an action that is completely unforeseen and unintentional.
  2. Disguised Ads: These are those forms of patterns that appear to be a part of the content on the webpage but in fact they are ads that are disguised within the content, engaging the user to click it.
  3. Forced Continuity: This is a pattern that is commonly noticed on subscription-based websites that offer a free trial, that can only be activated once the user enters his credit card details. Once the trial ends, the user cannot easily opt out of the plan and hence ends up paying for the subscription their pre-filled details.
  4. Friend Spam: This the kind of Dark Pattern that occurs when the webpage or the product requests for the user’s email or social media details under the pretense that it will be used for a specific desired outcome, but as a result turns out to be a spam mail or message that is sent out to every contact on the user’s list.
  5. Hidden Costs: The unexpected charges that appear on the Checkout page of most e-commerce websites are the hidden costs in question. These costs are never displayed while the product is being purchased but appear right before the amount is paid and is then added to the final amount of the product. Some of the examples of this pattern are Delivery Charges on Food Delivery websites, Internet Charges on certain booking websites, etc.
  6. Misdirection: As the name suggests, in this pattern the user’s attention is guided to a particular place on a webpage while the page may precheck certain undesired options that users turn a blind eye to.
  7. Privacy Zuckering: This was a pattern that was first identified on Facebook where users were forced to add more of their personal information than what was essentially required.
  8. Price Comparison Prevention: In this pattern, the retailer makes it hard for the user to compare prices of products with another product, hindering them from making an informed decision. An example for this is LinkedIn, where they advertise their premium plans and even promote a free trial, but never reveal the price in the first place.
  9. Roach Model: This is a pattern that is fairly common and frankly very relatable, due to the fact that it is easy to get into, but very difficult to come out of. It is a common practice on various job portals where you may subscribe to their services of finding you a job but there’s no easy way to unsubscribe to their services despite working for a number of years.

CONCLUSION

While it is important for UX designers to create a web experience that is aesthetically pleasing and enhance usability, it is also our responsibility as a UI/UX agency to promote complete transparency. Although these dark patterns may help you achieve your short term goals and help you reach your targets, it is a practice that is completely unethical and should be frowned upon. We hope we’ve opened your eyes to the blinding truth.


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Moulik Jain

Written By:

Moulik Jain

Moulik Jain, a serial entrepreneur who worked on several tech ventures before jumping on board as Co-Founder. He is a true tech-evangelist, constantly learning and visualising how new technologies can be leveraged to maximise impact for their clients.

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