Dark Patterns in Design

November 26, 2021

Dark Patterns in Design - Why You Should Never Trick Your Users - Experts Zone #9


Olga Vasylenko

Marketing Specialist

Pawel Ingielewicz

Head of Design
Dark Patterns in Design - Why You Should Never Trick Your Users - Experts Zone #9
product design(8)

How do dishonest companies force their clients to do things they don’t want to do? In the newest episode, Pawel will tell you about the dark patterns in design and explain why you should never trick your users. Our experienced UI/UX Designers and Software Developers will help you to implement your project. Reach us via the form on https://frontendhouse.com/.

In the "Dark Patterns in Design: Why You Should Never Trick Your Users" episode you will find:

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 00:37 What are dark patterns in design?
  • 02:44 Tricky questions
  • 07:25 Roach motel
  • 11:30 Bait and switch
  • 14:01 Friendspam
  • 15:51 Other kinds of dark patterns

Have a nice watch! Don’t forget to like the "Dark Patterns in Design: Why You Should Never Trick Users"video and leave comments to share your impressions!


Good day, everyone. And welcome to our channel. Today we will be talking about dark patterns in design and why you should never trick your users. So without any further ado, let's jump to the intro and begin.

Okay, so basically, what are dark patterns in design? Dark patterns in design are something that was maybe not created by but was introduced by Harry Brignull, founder of darkpatterns.org. And basically what he created, what he mentioned was some practices that involve users and try to trick them or mischief or being mischief towards our websites or applications users.

So as Harry Brignull says, what are their patterns: “A pattern library with the specific goal of naming and shaming deceptive user interfaces”. It's a quote from Harry Brignull exactly about dark patterns. There are several dark patterns, which help to manipulate users, and they are also not only appearing in the digital world. For example, when you have some paper from the bank and you hear them saying that something costs - when you want to take a credit card or something, and you read that there are little taxes or some other kinds of promotions towards this credit card.

But then what you didn't look is down there. There's like a very small print that says something different, that's basically different. For example, it only lasts for a month or two weeks, and then you find out about it not before signing, but after signing. And after this period of time that the promotion is gone and you are left with, for example, a credit card that has really high value and simply makes you pay more money, that you didn't actually know about because you didn't read the small print.

This is also a dark pattern because it is basically deceptive towards users and in this case towards the bank clients and what we will focus on today will be dark patterns in design and mostly in user experience perspective. So what kind of dark patterns may I encounter during designing or simply surfing for the web?

Trick Questions

The first one that we will talk about is trick questions. As you see here, this quote, maybe not a quote but a description is taken from darkpatterns.org.

Trick questions. While filling in a form, you respond to a question that tricks you into giving an answer you didn't intend. When glanced upon quickly, the question appears to ask one thing, but when you read carefully, it asks another thing entirely. Basically, this kind of trick question usually appears when you have some checkboxes to check, to tick, or somewhere at the end of the form when the website wants you to do something that you normally wouldn't want to do, so they write their question or the phrase in a way that you simply make you wrong, make you think like you are doing something else, but you are doing something another thing entirely.

So, for example, if we see here, this is a screenshot from the airline company - Sky. And as you see here, it says, Sky may contact you about products and services you may like unless you click to opt-out. So this is something I actually had to read like three times before I actually understood. What do they mean? They mean that unless I tick this box, they will contact me about products and services that I may like. So this is not something that I have to click this to receive their contact. No, I have to click this to not receive their contact. And what else is here when we read it? It says unless you click to opt-out.

So where is actually the opt-out button? There isn't one visible. And the checkbox here doesn't say opt-out. It says that they may contact you unless you were opt-out. But the CTA - call to action - isn't anywhere visible on this page to say to opt-out.

So this is really confusing for the user, whether or not should they take this? But this checkbox here because this isn't entirely like, not maybe true, but entirely understood by the users. So this is exactly an example of trick questions that may appear somewhere. And basically, if you want to avoid something like this, what should you do to avoid trick questions?

So first rule: there should be used simple and proper wording and phrases, so they are clear to the user. So let's not write some complex stuff. We should keep the content of the website, the written context as simple as possible for the user to understand it correctly, because not all of the users will, for example, be able to understand a complex technical language or from any other simply complex phrases. We should keep it simple. So keep it simple as much as possible.

The second one is to avoid using negation while writing your context example from there unless you click to opt-out, or you simply negate some things, and then you increase the cognitive overload to the user because he actually needs to think about what you just told him. The third one is what I in some ways mentioned before. Keep your writing consists. Do not increase the cognitive load on the user. So if you know what cognitive overload is, then great.

But if you don't know the cognitive overload - there is basically the amount of information, the number of things we might comprehend at the moment. So if you, for example, at some time found yourself that you are reading a book that you don't understand at all or is using hard words, perhaps some technical books and you find that you can't read it and you feel like your head would explode. This is basically is a cognitive overload. If you have too many things that are new to you just in a short time, then you wouldn't want to continue with learning or with reading.

This happens, for example, in schools where the teacher is continuing with the program too fast and people cannot understand it, and their cognitive overload is increasing, increasing to the point where they are actually not listening anymore because it doesn't make any sense to them.

So this is also what you should be worrying about with your website or application. You should try to not overload the cognitive load to the user. So this one thing to one way to do that is keeping your content, your writing simple and consistent so that the user understands it correctly without having to think too much about it basically. So that's it about the trick questions.

Roach motel

The second dark pattern that we'll be talking about is called roach motel. You get into a situation very easy, but then you find it is hard to get out of it. For example, a premium subscription. So probably everyone right now, every person that uses the Internet has some kind of subscription, Netflix subscription, Spotify subscription or LinkedIn subscription. We all have subscriptions, and we all know that getting into a subscription is relatively pretty much easy. It's pretty straightforward, and the application prompts you about it. Hey, you can join us. You get some stuff free. The first month will be free. You’ll get a lot of premium stuff that you wouldn't have in a free plan, and you find that it's extremely easy to join a subscription plan. But what happens then? If you actually want to cancel it? You find in some cases that it's extremely hard to cancel your plan. So for example, right here in Audible, Audible has some secret plans that you might get into by accident. And then to cancel those plans, you actually have to do a website and it's not available for you in the application. So you're using your application for everything, you can start your plan within an application. But to cancel your plan, you actually need to visit the website, login there and then go through a lot of stuff out of pages to actually cancel your account. This also happened to Facebook.

Facebook pretty much hid the delete your user delete your account option. And if you wanted to find this option on Facebook by yourself, it would be pretty much impossible. And basically what you had to write in Google “Facebook delete account”. And then the first option was actually to delete your account. But finding it on Facebook was almost impossible.

So it's very easy to create your account, but it's extremely hard to delete your account, and this is the same that happens in Audible. It's very easy to get your plan started and start subscribing. But if you want to cancel your subscription or delete your account, it is very hard for the user to do so. And why you should actually try to avoid this. Also, basically, your user needs the freedom to choose what he basically wants.

So if he wants to delete his account, he should be able to do so without any obstacles on the way. And he should have access to all functionalities. If the user wants to cancel, he will do it anyway. Basically, if the user wants to cancel his plan, he will do it if he will do it next month, because you will prevent him from doing so by many obstacles, and he will be late for the payment. You will, for example, charge him.

And because he didn't make it in time to delete his account or cancel his subscription, he will do it next month. But what will happen? He will probably never again use your app anymore. He will choose someone else because he will have very bad memories of you because it was extremely hard for him to cancel his plan because of many reasons, maybe he wanted a break, for example, for a month or two because he knew that he wouldn't use your app. It will lead to online users reduction.

So basically he will just cancel it but then come back if he would be prevented from doing so. Okay, then he will pay you for another month. But then he will never use your app again and basically go to the competition. So we should always give the user possibility to choose what he wants. Give him the freedom to do what he wants.

And for example, there are some great things you can do about subscriptions like that. For example, some applications actually prompt users by email sending them that in two days your free plan will end and we will charge you. So we, of course, would love you to stay. But if you want to cancel your plan, there's a button to do so. And then if he wants to cancel, then he will probably cancel anyway.

But he will remember it. That was a great user experience, and if he doesn't want to cancel it, he wants to keep doing so. He will still very much appreciate that you’ve told him about that. You give him a hint. Okay, in two days your subscription plan will start and you will have to pay and he will feel that he's been taken care of. So always remember to put your user in the first place and simply give him freedom to choose what he wants. That's it about the Roach motel, and the third one is called Bait and switch.

Bait and switch

So you set out to do one thing, but a different undesirable thing happens anyway. So this also applies to the fourth rule of Don Norman's Heuristics, which is consistent, concise and has standards.

So if, for example, this will be very hard, for example, but don't use checkboxes as you would use radio buttons, for example, or like, here you see Windows 10 update. So what was wrong with this update? And it was a complete, very backlash to Microsoft for it. If you press the X button in the top right corner and everyone would think, okay, I will close this window and yeah, that's it. I will close this window. Nothing will happen. I will still maintain my PC as the way it was nothing will happen. I will simply close it, but no. What actually happened when you press this X button in the top right corner. It meant that you agree and the download will start and you will update your computer instead of simply closing the window. That is undesirable because everyone thinks that the X button simply means close.

I will close it. I will not have to look at it anymore for some time, probably because probably it will appear later. But I certainly won't agree to anything by clicking this button. This is an example of bait and switch. We do something that we think we know what will happen, but basically, completely another thing happens instead. That it why we have to raise awareness around it.

So as I mentioned here, we need to remember Norman’s heuristic consistency and standards and basically respect our users because there are rules to the Internet the way we use certain things. There are design systems, atomic design like Apple has Centred design. They give you some hints on how some things should work because that's how they work, and if you will do it in a different way, the unexpected way for the user, the user will be simply tricked by you, and he will definitely not appreciate being tricked by the application. So if people want to enjoy using your application, then they will probably switch to the competition.

That's basically what happens most of the time, that's it about bait and switch. There are probably many other examples that any of us would think of like really using anything that's not supposed to be used that way. Like I mentioned checkboxes and radio buttons, for example.


And the fourth thing that we'll be talking about here today and the last one about the dark patterns is friendspam. The product asks for your email or social media permissions under the presence. It will be used for a desirable outcome. For example, finding friends, but then send to all of your contacts in a message that claims to be from you. So this is something that's not actually happening a lot anymore because of LinkedIn MDS. That's basically illegal. So this is another reason why, because LinkedIn did it in 2015, they were fined $50 million for it. And this is a completely undesirable outcome of what happened because basically what you don't want to do is send emails from you, but pretend to be a certain user because it's wrong and it's illegal.

And the second thing, if you actually want, for example, you want users to do something like with their friends or with their friend's list, then don't send the email on behalf of the user. If you want to share something with the user’s friend's list, simply ask a user to do so, and if he wants to share it and let him choose to which friends he would like to share it like share a new photo or share some kind of an achievement, allow him to put the input what friends should see it and ask if maybe he wants to do it, not force, not send it on behalf of the user, because that would be simply illegal right now, because as you saw, LinkedIn was fined for a $50 million, which may be not that much, but still it's a lot of money.

And then what after this? Well, I mentioned four dark patterns, but there are quite a few more in this category of those dark patterns, but I didn't get into them. That is quite detailed, but I will still mention to you what the other ones are.

Sneak into the basket

So one of them is sneak into the basket, which basically means that you attempt to purchase something. But somewhere in the purchasing journey, the site sneaks additional items into your basket. That actually happens. Some of those things may not happen quite often anymore because people found out about it. They mentioned this as a dark pattern, so basically, some applications stop doing that. But this happens often by having some checkboxes by ticking them or radio buttons that you probably clicked or which you have automatically opted in. For example, you were ticked on the default that you didn't actually know about didn't see them. And by accident added two items instead of one. And this is basically what Sneaking into the basket means.

Privacy zuckering

Privacy zuckering. So, zuckering comes from Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and this means that you are sharing more personal data than you actually intended to. So you thought that, for example, you were, I don't know, maybe sharing only your name and email, but you were tricked into sharing your name, email, friends list, contacts list, and your photos and more user data and personal information. For example, this is Privacy zuckering, and this is the most common dark pattern that happens actually nowadays.

Price comparison prevention

Now the third one is price comparison prevention. This is very much self-explanatory, the website prevents you to compare prices. This is also considered a dark pattern. Misdirection - so misdirection is basically when the website is trying to focus you on one thing only for dragging your focus out of the other things. So if they don't want you to see something, they will focus your eyes on some other things. This is something that also happens pretty often still.

Hidden costs

Still, the next one is hidden fees. This involves any hidden costs that you might have not known about. One of them is actually, for example, taxes. If you want to get something abroad, for example, like delivering any package from the United States to Poland, there's a tax that you should pay, and some pages do not inform you about this. For example, you buy something for $12, ok, for example, $100 and you think right, okay, I will pay $100. But then you pay additional, like $40 for the package to be carried by some kind of courier company. And then you actually end up paying more than 200 USD because they actually added the tax on it that you weren't informed when you were buying this or when you were checking out on the website. This could be considered as a hidden cost, basically.

Confirmed shaming

Okay, so the next one has confirmed shaming. So this is basically making the user feel ashamed not to choose something. Basically, that would be confirmed shaming, when the user is ashamed not to click something, not to agree to something. It could be written in such a way that would make the user feel uncomfortable.

Disguised ads

This happens very often on some sites that allow you to download some things. For example, when you are downloading some software and you see a download button you press on. But what happens is it wasn't exactly a download button. It was a hidden ad that opens you some ads. It happens pretty often on that little shady website, but it also happens sometimes on big websites of any kind.

Forced continuity

The next one last one from this list would be forced continuity. This is what I briefly mentioned before with the subscription. So for example, your free trial is ending and you get charged without any heads up. You were charged, you were forced to continue it even if you didn't want to. Of course, the user should always know that his trial is ending. He should be aware of that. But some people are not. And maybe they because we must understand, we must remember that a lot of the time people have more than one subscription and could have more than one or two free trials at the same moment. And some free trials are, for example, for seven days, some are for a month, and others could be, for example, for three months.

And users do not very often remember which subscription and how long does it last. So you should always give a heads up that he will be charged in a day or two, not to give him this forced continuity as a dark pattern. And as you see here the source is www.darkpatters.org.

This is something that you could visit and read some more about those dark patterns. See some other examples. See the hole of shame there. Remember about it when you design those things. We often have this because from a business perspective, we should make as much money as we can. And so we sometimes do things that are considered as dark patterns. But we should always keep in mind that this could actually be not the work, not the way we intended. So for example, we thought that thanks to this will earn more money. But what will actually happen in the beginning? We will earn some more money. But after, for example, a month or two or three, a lot of users will leave our application. And basically, we will not have a very solid base of users that we could work with. So I'll always remember to keep those dark patterns away from your website. And also if we are at this moment at this step, I also recommend you to visit Norman's group heuristics. Those are like carefully crafted light patterns. This is the light side. Those are the Jedi, so they keep the protection of your website. And if you actually take those ten usability heuristics and keep them in mind while designing your website or your application, you can be pretty much sure that it will be user friendly and very much usable by the users. So I very much recommend this website. I always visited when I am designing something or when I'm at some kind of I'm not sure of something. I check if this works.

Of course, sometimes you are not able to do everything but should always try to keep those ten Usability heuristics in mind. Thank you very much. We upload videos every Friday, so stay tuned for that at stay tuned for the next Friday. And from my end, I wish you a happy evening. And goodbye.

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Meet the authors


Olga Vasylenko

Marketing Specialist


Pawel Ingielewicz

Head of Design

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