Unboxing the Secrets of Dark UX

Unboxing the Secrets of Dark UX

Explore the shadowy realm of Dark UX and Dark Patterns, where digital design subtly manipulates user behavior to benefit organizations, and learn how to navigate this deceptive landscape.

Gavin Jones
0 min read
April 15, 2024

What is/are Dark UX / Dark Patterns?

Dark Patterns are methods added to digital experiences that nudge the customers into behaviour that benefits the organisation rather than the customer. These are usually deceptive in nature, some organisations are now opting for the term Deceptive Design over dark patterns to highlight this.

Dark patterns are not to be confused with Gray patterns which are much more transparent (not misleading) and communicate clearly the benefit of taking an action.

Even though you may be unfamiliar with the terms Dark UX and Dark patterns, the following examples of them in use we’re sure you will recognise!

5 Examples of Dark Patterns

  1. The Switcheroo.

The switcheroo is when the interaction you expect is flipped in reverse, which is usually in a bid to trick you into choosing the option the organisation wants you to take. If you are in a hurry, it is easily overlooked and you may not notice.

One area I have seen this done is with NPS surveys. The NPS (Net Promoter Score) is a metric used to measure how likely customers are to recommend an organisation to friends and family.

These two NPS score surveys appeared in my inbox in the space of a week. The first is a well known internet and tv service provider who opts for a 10–0 scale. An unusual approachas wouldn’t you expect to see a 0–10? This company has a habit of being rated poorly for customer service. By flipping the scale there is the potential to trick those wanting to quickly smash the 0 into giving them 10s.

The second is from Remarkable (a company that sells E-Ink writing tablets). Which puts the scale 0–10 which is the way we expect scales to be designed and implemented, and what we all recognise as the ‘norm’.

2. Roach Motel / Opt-out loop

Have you ever tried to call a company to cancel your service? Usually there is a prolonged process of “we could also do X for you if you stay”. A number of online subscription providers have replicated this in their online experience too. Cancellation is no longer a click away. You get passed through a sequence of screens either threatening you with the loss of the deal with your existing package, giving you a new and improved offer or diverting you through to the dispute resolution section. Personally, I don’t mind these as much, however, I feel there is a limit to how many of these screens should be put in place. If someone clicks cancel, this should really be the action they are given.

3. Sneak into basket

After shopping online have you ever received a magazine or oversized mug in the parcel you didn’t expect? Or maybe you added it because it was “free”? But you check the order details and realise your delivery charge has gone up. This practice is not as common as it used to be, but definitely worth keeping your eyes open for as you shop online.

4. Junk Fees

You’re shopping online for a holiday, it’s within the budget and you’re really excited but you get to the payment page and you are greeted with additional costs. Whether it’s an admin/service charge,cleaning fees or both, they are a very unwelcome surprise. AirBnB used to be one of the biggest culprits of this, but earlier this year they changed their process to give you the total cost of your trip when you search. A win for the customer we say :D

5. Fictional Demand / Time Sensitivity

Have you noticed the countdown clocks online that say the deal is only valid for the next 3 hours, or the stock level alert stating “only 3 items left!”. You feel a sense of urgency to order, you really don’t want to miss out on such a limited offer. But is the demand real?

In 2022 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into the company Emma Sleep on their countdown timers and offers. In mid 2023 the CMA ended up making recommendations to Emma Sleep to change their marketing practices as they found them misleading. You can see the full press release here.

Don’t go to the dark side

Dark UX and Dark Patterns are all around us so keep your eyes peeled as you book that holiday, sign up for new services or buy that new pair of shoes.

As creators of platforms the focus should be on the benefit to the end user when making design decisions. In industries that are legally obliged to consider Consumer Duty this should be standard practice. Our podcast “Consumer Duty — Preventing consumers from getting a pain in the neck”, covers this in more detail.

There is irreparable damage that can be done to your brand when using these sorts of practices. The damage can go even further than reputation. With the EU introducing a ban on Dark Patterns through the Digital Services Act and in the US the FTC having successfully prosecuted organisations for “unfair and deceptive practices”, it’s key to make sure you aren’t heading down the road of using dark UX techniques and patterns to deceive your customers for your sole benefit.

If you are looking for a team of designers who focus on designing to meet the needs of your customers then get in touch with our User Experience team today.


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