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Welcome to the dark side: Are you inadvertently using dark patterns?

Jennifer DeRome  |  October 31, 2018

It was a dark and stormy least for users, that is. A dark pattern is the ultimate scary story when it comes to customer experience (CX) so what better time to write about the horrors of deceitful experiences than on Halloween? For those unfamiliar, dark patterns are design elements that attempt to persuade people to move in a specific direction or take a particular action that ultimately is in the company’s best interest—and not necessarily the user. At first, that might just sound like good old fashioned marketing. Isn’t that what most companies are trying to do anyway? The difference is when it’s not clear what action a person is about to take. Or scarier, perhaps, what the consequences of that action might be. In honor of Halloween, we want to highlight how companies may be inadvertently dressing their products and experiences in dark patterns, potentially scaring away customers.

The dark side of data

It might be hard to believe how any company could knowingly rely on such tactics, but one reason is that they’re probably not relying on qualitative insights to balance out their quantitative data. A slew of A/B tests, for example, might indicate a dark pattern design performs exponentially better than another option. Without taking things a step further though, to see how a user might react after realizing what that click of the mouse just did, they’re not getting the whole picture. Quantitative data is no doubt a valuable tool to help companies pinpoint pain points or areas for improvement. But companies are ignoring the full customer experience if that data isn’t paired with human insights.

Ignoring the things that go bump in the night

Listening to customers give feedback on a product isn’t always easy. Sometimes they might tell you things that teams really don’t want to hear. In fact, customer feedback can often lead to a complete redesign or delay a launch. But that’s a good thing. Because when companies ignore or worse, bypass gathering human insights altogether, there’s a good chance that they’re sealing their fate with a potentially terrible customer experience. And by the time they figure it out, the product has been built and launched, and fixing the issue is now far more costly, if possible at all. Not to mention the loss of trust and loyalty they’ll suffer from customers. Incorporating qualitative insights, like recorded user tests and customer interviews, early and often throughout the product lifecycle is a company’s best defense against becoming the unwitting purveyor of dark patterns.

Leaving the customer to fend for themselves

Being a customer-centric organization is a full-time job, and no matter how customer-obsessed a company may be, they still have to make a profit if they want to have any customers to serve. Therein lies the challenge for many teams. On the one hand, teams are taught and trained that their priority is to always think of customers first. Yet, on the other hand, they also have aggressive goals, some of which require them to do their best to convince customers to buy from the company. If teams aren’t careful, it can be easy to leave their customers defenseless against their other goal of a healthy bottom line. By forgetting, even for a moment, or a quarter, that the customer should be at the center of everything a company does, they risk leaving customers feeling forgotten and taken for granted. If the experience is bad enough, those companies could see their customers running in the opposite direction. Keeping the customer at the heart of everything a company does is a powerful protection against dark patterns, and will help make customers feel safe and cared for.

Focus on the customer: protection from the dark side

Whether intentional or accidental, it’s never too late to turn from the dark side and strive to keep customer interests at the core of what a company does. The best way to do this is by listening directly to customers. Conduct regular user tests throughout the product development cycle and continuously ask what the ultimate goal of a design will be. If the driving force is to benefit the company at the expense of the customer, chances are you’re drifting to the dark side. If the customer is truly the beneficiary of product designs and enhancements, then congratulations, no need to be afraid of the dark!

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to learn more about how UserTesting can help you understand your customers—and avoid using dark patterns—through on-demand human insights, contact us here.

About the author:

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.