Have you ever signed up for a free trial, forgot to cancel the subscription, then discovered the company has been billing your credit card after the trial period ended? The company didn't notify you about an upcoming bill and neglected to tell you how to cancel the subscription, so you were unaware. It's happened to most people. In the UX world, we refer to these deceiving interface designs as dark patterns.
What are dark patterns?
Dark patterns—also known as deceptive design patterns—are interfaces designed to subtly trick you into doing a task you otherwise normally wouldn’t do.
Dark patterns confuse the user by not presenting information clearly. Designers do this by either hiding the “unsubscribe” button or highlighting the choice they want you to pick and hiding the other option.
Types of dark patterns
Dark patterns are prevalent in user interfaces. It’s no surprise if you end up noticing dark patterns in future interactions with organizations. Below are the types of commonly used dark patterns most people have encountered.
This is a common tactic that happens to most people. A company offers a free trial to a subscription service, but you must provide your credit/debit card information. After your free trial ends, the company continues to bill you.
To continue charging you without your knowledge, companies do not inform you about payment dates or provide a convenient way to cancel the subscription. A company could be billing your card routinely unbeknownst to you until you realize and cancel the subscription service.
In this circumstance, companies make signing up for a service—usually, a subscription service—incredibly easy, but the process of leaving is difficult and confusing.
Companies will either make the unsubscribe button too tiny for one to view or have users call a customer service representative to unsubscribe.
Companies will lead users into committing a task of the company's best interest to deter users from another action. One way companies accomplish this is by making the “buy” button larger than the “not buy” button if a company wants you to purchase a product.
Companies will heavily influence users’ choices based on design. Although interfaces provide users with the option of choosing, if they're not paying close attention, they may select something they don't want, to remove the screen and move on.
Why organizations should avoid dark patterns
Although it’s nice to earn metrics and to drive conversions, it doesn’t help retain long-term customers. If an organization continuously leads with gimmicks to gain profit, customers will realize and potentially choose to work with a competitor.
By starting with honesty, you maintain and build empathy with your users. Lead with transparent messaging and don’t put any tricks within your interface that prevents customers from having a satisfactional customer experience.
Want to learn more?
Grab a copy of User Tested: How the World's Top Companies Use Human Insight to Create Great Experiences, co-authored by UserTesting’s CIO Janelle Estes and CEO Andy MacMillan.