Dark Patterns: Designing Website Interfaces to Sucker Punters


This is an excellent twenty minute video of a slide presentation by Harry Brignull, one of the curators of the Dark Patterns website. Dark Patterns are defined on the site as: “User Interfaces that are designed to trick people”. This embraces design tricks to extract the maximum revenue from website users by deploying a tool-kit of design techniques and psychological ploys to exploit the user. This is the application of sound service design principles, but used for what Brignull convincingly argues are unethical ends. He argues that any user experience principle that makes interaction easier for the user can be subverted and used to make it easier for the user to do something they do not really want to do (e.g. buy insurance) or prevent them doing something (e.g. cancel a subscription).

He argues that these techniques have become widespread due to the confluence of four factors:

Aggressive environments:

website operators are under intense pressure to maximise revenue, creating a climate fertile for approaches that will squeeze money from the user;

Huge emphasis on metrics:

A/B testing and the measurement of user interactions provides the evidence supporting a slide down the slippery slope;

Social Proof:

if website user experience designers see other well-known websites using dubious techniques, it normalises their use;

Cannot be parsed:

dodgy website design techniques to distort search engine rankings can be spotted by the crawlers building the search engine indices, but the tricks of Dark Patterns are harder to spot automatically, so there is no policing to avoid their use.

Brignull demonstrates some of the most egregiously dodgy techniques, but argues that the way to stamp out these practices is to make users aware of them and shame the companies using them. Watching the video and reading through his taxonomy of design ruses will help increase your self-awareness.

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