Dark patterns User interfaces that are designed to deceive or trick you

Brad Hussey 3 minute read
August 5, 2020

Have you ever heard of a "Dark Pattern"? Chances are you haven't, but you've probably been the victim of one!

Everyone from bloggers to large eCommerce companies are employing them, and it's awful. The term "Dark Pattern" was originally coined by user experience designer Harry Brignull, and he defines it as such:

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn't mean to, like buying or signing up for something.

The purpose of his website, darkpatterns.org, is to "spread awareness and to shame companies that use [dark patterns]."

What kind of Dark Patterns are there?

There are at least a dozen recorded types of Dark Patterns, and you can find them all on darkpatterns.org, but here is a list of the ones I find particularly interesting:

Price Comparison Prevention - this is where the retailer makes it difficult to compare prices, preventing the customer from making an informed decision (likely to increase the chances of accidentally spending more money).

Privacy Zuckering - this is where the user shares more personal information than they originally intended to.

Confirmshaming - I've grown to seriously dislike the practice of confirmshaming. This is where the user is guilted into opting into something, usually a free newsletter, by wording the "no thanks" option in a way that shames the user for considering to decline. For example, it may look like this:

A fictional example of a dark pattern. This would be very ironic if I actually did this on the website...

There are many other Dark Patterns that don't necessarily fall into any of the categories listed on the Dark Patterns website but would still be considered a Dark Pattern.

Tricking you into a purchase

For example, let's say you are offered a free trial of an iPhone app you want to test out before you buy, and the signup form says there is no obligation to purchase, then a "Finger ID" or "Face ID" popup appears and you assume it's to confirm the download (as is the case with free apps), only to find out afterwards it was a deceptive trick to get you to purchase an annual subscription.

This is a Dark Pattern because the user experience designer knew that the average iPhone user will habitually enter their Finger ID (or Face ID) without even reading the text on the popup, and therefore "tricking" the user into signing up for a paid subscription.

(That exact scenario happens all the time, by the way.)

Why do people use Dark Patterns?

I have two theories as to why marketers, entrepreneurs and companies use Dark Patterns:

Monkey See, Monkey Do - They are simply copying what they see others doing on the web, and unconsciously creating Dark Patterns. It's forgivable, but it's still not okay.

Conscious Deception - They are intentionally utilizing Dark Patterns at the expense of the user. This is bad.

So, as consumers, the more we educate ourselves on Dark Patterns and how we can protect ourselves from them, the less effective they will be, and the less they will be employed in the future.

And as marketers—especially the Monkey See, Monkey Do marketers—the more we learn about Dark Patterns, the less we will unconsciously employ these lame tactics.

Remember, honest marketing is the best marketing.

And Dark Patterns are the antithesis to honesty.