The Design of Tricky (and Treaty!) UX
Happy October! That means no one is allowed to be annoyed with my Halloween decorations and love of the spookiest season for an entire month! I for one have my hand outstretched for all the treats and seasonal scents and am trying to not be incredibly upset that my favorite holiday needs to take a step back for health and safety. I’m filling that void with candy and fun decorations (I made some great little faux venus fly trap bouquets for my apartment door and I love them). I wanted to start off this month with a SpOoOoOkY blog about Tricky UX/UI interactions, otherwise known as DARK PATTERNS! *screams*
Briefly, a dark pattern is a misleading or deceptive UX/UI decision to get users to do things they otherwise wouldn’t want to do. These are not “bad designs”, but instead choices crafted with an understanding of
psychology that don’t have the user’s best interest in mind. Dark Patterns began as something as simple as the pop-up window (Ethan Zuckerman, the inventor of the pop-up, has since apologized for creating it) and have evolved to be much sneakier. Harry Brignull coined the term “dark patterns” and lists 12 types of dark patterns on his website darkpatterns.org:
Sneak into Basket
Privacy Comparison Prevention
Bait and Switch
But wait! A Twist! Is this an M.Night Shyamalan movie? All 12 of these patterns have been discussed at length in many other articles and blogs (this one is great by Arushi Jaiswal) and don’t need a full overview from yet another voice. What I wanted to talk about is the evolution of these patterns.
I am an avid online shopper. I prefer the experience of buying things online (hello instant gratification) and then getting them in the mail (a present! From past me?! I shouldn’t have) which then leaves me with LOTS of emails from companies. I’m probably in the minority in that I want a few of these emails, however, occasionally I forget to uncheck one of the million boxes that sends me emails that I don’t want. In my attempt to keep my inbox organized I often go to unsubscribe to the ones I’m not super interested in - that’s where I noticed something… If it were easy to unsubscribe, I was WAY more likely to stay on the email list.
What??? I know, counterintuitive, but it got me thinking. As more and more users spend time online, I’ve noticed fewer dark patterns appear with much more straightforward, honest, marketing. The online retailers I frequent make it easy and obvious to me when I am checking that I want to receive emails, they don’t have a ton of popup ads or strange buttons to trick me into clicking, and they don’t make it hard for me to get off their email list if I don’t want to be there. A one click unsubscribe? I may just close out of the window since I know how easy it is to stop receiving them. If I’m only getting one email a week - who knows! Maybe there’s a great deal in there! I’m nothing if not the ideal shopper.
But why are retailers moving away from the dark pattern tease? My bets are on UX research! Customers are spoiled. Brands used to be able to get away with some manipulation because users were largely unaware they were being manipulated. If they were aware, users didn’t have much choice and were stuck with what was presented to them. We have all the online retailer choices in the world now! That customer is going to get annoyed and not return if they don’t like how they’re being treated. It’s easy for companies to quickly switch out the annoyance that would direct them to a competitor.
Consumers also have an incredible amount of power with the amount of time spent on social media marketing and presence. Negative comments from users never go away and are easily searchable and accessible. For example, Audible.com was called out for using forced continuity in their billing process. When users were attempting to buy a single book they were automatically enrolled in a monthly billed membership. Audible.com refined their check-out process and got rid of the dark pattern.
Overall, great user experience should be the ultimate goal of all products. Companies are beginning to embrace an ideal customer and user experience and expanding their design departments (I’m available y’all!!). As the industry expands, UX/UI designers are learning more and more about how best to attract and keep users and shoppers - without scaring them away for good.