Dark patterns in UX design, and reasons to avoid them?

dark patterns in ux
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User Experience (UX) design shapes interaction and digital products or services. It seeks to create seamless, intuitive, and delightful experiences for users. However, not all UX practices have the user’s best interests. Enter the “dark patterns” concept – design choices that intentionally manipulate users into taking actions they might not have intended. This article will describe what Dark Patterns in UX design are and introduce some common types of dark patterns and how designers can use them in UI and UX design services.

Dark patterns in UX design are used to redirect users to take a particular action they don’t want. One example of a dark pattern in UX design is the gated content, which prevents you from accessing a website unless you sign up.

What are Dark Patterns

What are Dark Patterns?

Dark Patterns are deceptive or manipulative user interfaces designed to trick users into taking actions they didn’t intend to take, such as clicking an ad, purchasing an unnecessary subscription, or entering a never-ending loop of signups and emails. They can be used in digital products like websites and apps and in physical product packaging and store displays. Dark Patterns prey on our unconscious biases and lack of time or attention, making it easy to make decisions that aren’t in our best interests.

Common types of Dark Patterns include Bait and switch, Forced Continuity, Hidden Cost, Disguised Ads, Misdirection, Privacy Zuckering, etc. Some examples of Dark Patterns are pre-checked boxes, persuasive design elements such as bright colors or social proof, and auto-renewing subscriptions that are difficult to cancel.

Dark Patterns can damage both users and companies – creating distrust, increasing customer complaints, and taking away from the user experience. Companies should strive to recognize Dark Patterns in their products and work to create ethical designs that put user well-being first. With careful consideration, companies can ensure their products are designed with honest intentions and help foster trust between customers and brands. Dark patterns can manifest in various ways:

  1. Misdirection: Using visual or language cues leads users to perform actions they did not intend. For instance, making the “Decline” button less prominent than the “Accept” button on privacy settings.
  2. Forced Continuity: Subtly guiding users into subscriptions or ongoing services without their clear understanding or consent.
  3. Hidden Costs: Concealing additional charges or fees until the user is committed to a purchase.
  4. Sneak into Basket: Automatically adding items to the user’s cart without explicit consent, as seen in e-commerce platforms.


The Pros and Cons of Dark Patterns in UX

The Pros of Dark Patterns:

  1. Increased Conversions: Dark patterns can lead to higher conversion rates and more successful sales, as users are guided towards making decisions that benefit the business.
  2. Achieving Business Goals: By employing dark patterns, companies can drive users towards actions that align with their business objectives, such as signing up for newsletters or subscribing to services.
  3. Aesthetic Design: Some dark patterns are cleverly disguised and can contribute to an aesthetically pleasing user interface, enhancing overall visual appeal.


The Cons of Dark Patterns:

  1. Deceptive Practices: Dark patterns involve manipulating users into actions they didn’t genuinely choose, eroding trust between the user and the service provider.
  2. Negative User Experience: Users who feel deceived or coerced are likely to have a negative experience, damaging the product or service’s reputation.
  3. User Frustration: Dark patterns can lead to frustration, confusion, and wasted time, ultimately driving users away from the platform.
  4. Ethical Concerns: Dark patterns raise significant ethical issues by deliberately misleading users, violating the principles of transparency and user-centered design.

Dark Patterns in user experience

Dark Patterns in UX

Dark patterns in UX is a type of user experience or design pattern that deliberately makes it difficult for users to complete the desired task. Marketers, designers, and websites often use these patterns to manipulate people into buying products, subscribing to services, or clicking on advertisements. While UX dark patterns may be successful in the short term, they create distrust among customers and can eventually damage your brand. Therefore, avoiding dark UX patterns in your designs is important.

1-Bait and Switch

Fake data or information can be presented to users. This speaks of the user’s interest. The information or data changes if the user is interested and clicks on the link. Businesses use bait and switch to increase clicks. Also, the Windows 10 dialog box is an example of a bait-and-switch dark UX design. Clicking X will initiate the upgrade.


When the user’s attention is directed to a particular place, they may notice nothing else. (Brignull, 2010)

Estevao, Medium, 2017, referred to the ‘Skype Software Update 2016’ example as misdirection. It explained how it preselected Bing.com as the default search engine for the user and MSN as their homepage during the update.

3-Hidden Cost

A price for a product/service is displayed with a shockingly high price (taxes or delivery fees) after the user clicks on the checkout button.

4-Forcible Continuity

To start your free trial, you will need to add your card details or enter your email to continue using a website or app. Forced Continuity is not possible if you choose to ignore these self-interest gimmicks.

5-Forced Continuity

Forced Continuity can be found on many subscription-based websites that offer free trials. This dark pattern requires the user to sign up for a test and enter their credit card details. After the trial expires, users start being charged. They can’t opt out, they don’t get a reminder, and there is no way to cancel automatic credit card charges.

I have observed companies such as Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Ipsy guilty of this. Rutherford (2016) makes the important point that while it’s understandable that businesses may use this method to keep spammers away and avoid being overused, they could be alienating their customers by doing so.

Dark Patterns use in user experience

6-Friend Spam

This Dark Pattern is when a product asks the user for their email address or social media permissions on the pretext that it will be used to achieve the desired outcome, e.g., Finding friends and then spamming all their contacts with a message that claims it is from them. (Brignull, 2010)

LinkedIn was the most well-known example of this dark pattern, and they were fined 13 Million dollars in a class action lawsuit in 2015.

7-Disguised ads

A disguised advertisement appears similar to the content the user is searching for. The banner is placed on the website or app, and the user clicks on it to find out later that they were spammed.

Softpedia was the most obvious example of this false practice. Their ads looked similar to buttons that allowed users to download the software. Users were compelled to click on these wrongful buttons, giving them a reason for concern.

8-Privacy Zuckering

Brignull named the dark pattern after Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO. It is about tricking users into sharing more information than they intended.

In 2010, nearly all companies used tricks to confuse users. However, it is much easier to understand today. Rutherford (2016) showed an example from Zapier.com. It posts two versions of its Terms of Service. One is written in plain English, so anyone can understand it. The other has legal jargon, which can be signed without reading.

9-Roach Motel

It is a simple one-two-step process that makes your entrance look easy. The exit is difficult and almost impossible. Subscribing to a subscription is simple, but canceling it is not.

Reasons to Avoid Dark Patterns

  1. User Confusion: Dark patterns typically involve complex or confusing navigation that can be difficult for users to understand and navigate. This can lead to user frustration, confusion, and a feeling of being misled.
  2. Unethical Business Practice: Businesses often use dark patterns as an unethical means of obtaining more money from customers. This is not only deceptive but also detrimental to the trust between the business and its customers.
  3. Poor Reputation: Companies that use dark patterns can quickly gain a negative reputation in their industry and with consumers in general. This can damage their brand’s image and ultimately impact sales and customer loyalty.
  4. Legal Issues: In some cases, using dark patterns can be considered false advertising or deceptive business practices and could result in legal action against the company.
  5. Lost Customers: Finally, dark patterns often make customers feel frustrated and misled, leading them to look elsewhere for services or products they need. This can harm the company’s bottom line as fewer customers mean fewer sales. Therefore, it is essential to avoid using dark patterns at all costs. It is better to provide a clear and transparent user experience that will help build trust with your customers rather than risk damaging your reputation and losing valuable customers.


How can you avoid dark patterns in UX?

Dark UX patterns are designed to mislead people and fool them. This leads to visitors feeling confused, betrayed, and frustrated. Avoiding dark patterns, UX and creating a pleasant user experience is essential.

These design tips are essential to avoid dark patterns.

  • Introduce stringent design practice standards for designers
  • Design with empathy and user interest in mind
  • Prioritize user experience over the number of subscribers and visitors
  • Get inspired by UX designs that adhere to ethical design principles
  • To find out what user expectations are, conduct extensive user research

avoid Dark Patterns in user experience


Dark patterns have been around for as long as we can remember; they aren’t limited to the web. We must remember that our only friends when it comes down to dark patterns are other users. Dark patterns in UX design showcase the dual nature of design decisions – their potential to drive short-term outcomes versus their impact on user trust and satisfaction. As the field of UX evolves, responsible designers recognize the importance of prioritizing users’ interests over immediate gains. By embracing ethical design principles, we can create experiences that meet business objectives and foster trust, engagement, and favorable long-term relationships with users.


What are dark patterns also known as?

Deceptive patterns, also known as “dark patterns,” are used as tricks in websites and apps that make you do things you didn’t mean to, like buying or signing up for something.

Who uses dark patterns?

Dark patterns are the opposite of what we should celebrate in design thinking. These experiences are made to benefit the company at the cost of the user. Nobody is innocent; tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Amazon, Apple, and many others employ dark patterns in their strategies.

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