User Interface Dark Side: When Deception Works

No ambiguity with this one: the site is named…

a pattern library with the specific goal of naming and shaming deceptive user interfaces (aka “dark patterns”) and the companies that use them.

… and author Harry Brignull, in his List Apart post Dark Patterns: Deception vs. Honesty in UI Design, calls them “evil web designers. You can see the list in the illustration here: bait and switch, forced continuity, road block, all of them tried-and-false techniques to deceive users. He writes:

perhaps you’ve never thought about it before but all of the guidelines, principles, and methods that ethical designers use to design usable websites can be easily subverted to benefit business owners at the expense of users. It’s actually quite simple to take our understanding of human psychology and flip it over to the dark side.

“But it tests well,” he points out, as a good reason to use deceptive techniques.

Dark patterns tend to perform very well in A/B and multivariate tests simply because a design that tricks users into doing something is likely to achieve more conversions than one that allows users to make an informed decision.

Just reading the categories on the wiki-like dark patterns site, you recognize most of these techniques. Hidden costs, misdirection, forced continuity … we’re all exposed to most of them most of the time. Call them dark patterns, write about evil web designers, and your position on the ethics are pretty clear. It works for me.

I still believe that business ethics win over the long term. Good business practices keep customers loyal and tricks get caught often enough to impact business.

And we all say that, right? Are you doing it, in your business?


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