I was excited! I had just read about a new class for something I’ve wanted to learn about for the past year.
And a two-month free trial membership to take the class sounded perfect to me.
I selected the link, anxious to get signed up for my trial membership so I could start my class.
But when the page displayed, I was greeted with a form asking me for my credit card details.
Wait a minute.
I’m interested in taking the class, which you promoted in your free trial membership.
But I’m not willing to hand over my credit card details to your company in order to sign up for your “free trial.”
Even with your assurance that my card won’t be charged until the end of the free two-month trial membership.
Or your assurance I can cancel my membership at any time and my card won’t be charged.
No, thank you. I’ve been through this before.
Joe Natoli, a user experience professional from Baltimore, Maryland agreed with me when I tweeted about my frustration.
His reply to my tweet:
Right? As if no one sees this as "we're going to do our best to trick you into paying past the free trial." Enough already.
— Joe Natoli (@joenatoli) July 18, 2018
That trick Natoli is referring to is called a dark pattern.
And sadly, dark patterns have become so frequent that an entire website has been created to showcase the poor design practices organizations are taking.
What are Dark Patterns?
Ever try to unsubscribe from a mailing list, only to discover the unsubscribe link isn’t easy to find?
It’s hidden in that text at the bottom of the email message.
You know, that text formatted in a light gray color against a white background, with a super small font size you can barely read?
And the word “unsubscribe” doesn’t appear to be linked?
That’s a dark pattern.
The best definition of dark patterns comes from the site devoted to showcasing them.
From the Dark Patterns website:
Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to.
The website’s Hall of Shame is updated almost daily, with tweets from people using the #DarkPattern hashtag sharing their frustration and disbelief over the steps companies take to trick users.
Here’s the tweet about the unsubscribe link I mentioned earlier:
— Benjamin Walsh (@benjwalsh) June 2, 2018
Here’s another dark pattern I saw today, which goes against the typical pattern of choosing to subscribe to product updates.
Just saw a good example of a #UX #darkpattern when signing up for @InVisionApp: you need to select a checkbox to NOT receive product updates, which is the opposite of what most people expect. pic.twitter.com/s3YmUtfPl6
— Marijke Luttekes (@MHLut) July 18, 2018
Dark Pattern Types
What other kinds of dark patterns are there?
Turns out, at least a dozen different types of dark patterns, according to Dark Patterns.
You’ve probably heard of bait and switch, where you’re told about one thing, but end up getting something entirely different.
But have you heard of privacy zuckering? (I’ve heard of that design pattern, but not by that phrase!)
— Tiyani Nghonyama (@TiyaniTee) July 15, 2018
Or who hasn’t experienced sneak into basket when you’re purchasing something online, only to discover another item has been added to your basket without your permission?
Who doesn’t get angry when you experience these kinds of issues?
What You Can Do
People are frustrated when they encounter dark patterns on websites or web apps. They lose trust in your service, your product, and your company when you deceive them.
They feel used.
And in these days of social media, your prospective customer or current customer, is only a tweet or Facebook update away from sharing their anger and frustration with their followers.
In my opinion, it comes down to ethics.
Do you treat customers, their interactions with your company, and their data ethically? And with respect?
As a designer, marketer, digital specialist, or project manager, you need to consider the impact of that enabled checkbox that automatically adds someone’s email address to product updates.
Or that extra item you’ve added to someone’s checkout basket.
Is it worth the loss of trust? The loss of customers?
Do you want your company’s product or service shared in a tweet with the #DarkPatterns hashtag?
Or would you rather hear about your customers or prospective customers sharing how wonderful your product or service user experience is?