The UX of are you STUPID?

The UX of dark patterns

Become a UX designer they said! Make the world a better place for your users they said! and we believed them!

Then reality hits you in the face like that bully at dodgeball in Junior High. You get selected for your first real UX job. Quite an achievement given how difficult it is to break into the industry right now. You pat yourself on the back all excited to start. You deserve it! Your journey into making the world a better place begins!

And what happens next?

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By any means necessary

The first thing they ask you to do is to find a way to squeeze the user out of more money by any means necessary.

The real goal of most businesses is to get as much money as possible and hiring designers specifically to create dark patterns is not an isolated incident. Of course they hide it behind their slogans, company values, brand mission statements and all that fluff. It’s just like BP inventing the word “carbon footprint” to shift the blame for global warming on everyone else, just not them — the big polluter.

Dark patterns

Dark patterns are designed and requested more often than you think, but to defeat your enemy you must first know your enemy, right?!

Let’s talk about three popular ones.

Sneak into basket dark pattern
You select something for $120, click add to basket and suddenly you’re paying $150 instead.

Sneak into basket

This one is super common, which proves someone somewhere had to design and then code it — many many times.

On checkout a product adds an extra product that you didn’t pick into your basket, usually a paid one that you have to manually de-select to avoid paying extra. Most often it’s some extra insurance, extended warranty or a small feature you likely won’t need.

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You’re just subscribing to a new yearly service and on the last step they pre-select an option with an extra item for you. The option to just go with what you previously chosen can be selected, but is not the default. Many people won’t notice that and quickly click on the checkout button. They end up paying more and receiving an extra item that likely didn’t want or need.

dark patterns — sneak into basket ux
Typical domain name providers add a lot of extra stuff you never requested.

This is extremely popular with domain purchasing services, where they add extra “protection”, SSL certificates, hosting services and a wordpress site builder even if you only wanted to reserve a domain name for your next great startup idea. You end up manually deselecting all of those extra options and secretly wishing for a better domain registration provider.

FOMO in UX dark pattern
You found a nice deal, and you’re ready to book and then…

Fear of Missing Out

If you ever booked an apartment or a hotel you probably already know this one. Most of those booking sites create a sense of urgency by creating (often false) impression of scarcity, or showing that many people are currently considering the product you’re looking at to push you to act faster.

fomo in ux

These extra little nudges stating that this is the last room left to reserve in this place, that there are many people considering now and sometimes there’s a special time-limited promo to get it cheaper. All of these are supposed to force you to quickly decide out of fear that the deal will be gone. In reality most of these are created as a simple random-number generator in code and are not a representation of any real scarcity.

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Confirmshaming

Confirmshaming is using certain phrases to create guilt in the user so they feel like the choice that they prefer is not the right one after all. They often also call you names ;)

Confirmshaming example in UX design
Will you use the app, or are you lame?

These are usually done with an overlay or a popup that tries to convince you to do something differently by shaming you for your current way of doing things. In the example above some popups say that not using the app and just sticking to their web version is “lame”.

Confirmshaming example in UX design
Oh, so you’re not a pro?

In the example above the phrasing specifically states that maybe you don’t want to upgrade because you’re not a PRO, but rather a silly “basic user”.

Oh, so you’re not a pro… Sorry to hear that!

Conclusion

As you can see these are all designed to trick people into doing something they likely don’t want to do. And coming up with those little tricks is up to us — the designers.

Many companies say that they need to use dark patterns because everyone else is using them, so if we don’t then they’ll outperform us and earn more.

Netflix dark pattern
You check to NOT get spam email… That is just mean.

This is not the case, and I believe we should always take screenshots of all dark patterns we find, share them on social media and tag the company. Let’s show them we’re watching!

My recently updated No Bullshit Guide to UX ebook has these dark patterns and more of them explained so if you don’t have it yet — check it out.

For more on dark patterns check out Harry Brignull and his website https://deceptive.design which has been a huge inspiration for this article.

I also made a video where I show these patterns in more detail:

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