Deceptive design patterns, AKA “UX dark patterns” are tactics employed by websites and applications to manipulate users into taking actions they may not have intended, such as making purchases or signing up for services.
Sharing the same dishonest space as “black hat” SEO techniques, deceptive dark patterns take many forms, which we will look at here, as well as why these patterns need to be ousted from web design practices.
Types of Deceptive Design Patterns
Because deceptive design patterns can be used in different ways, they can be hard to identify even when you’re looking right at them. They’re sneaky – the clue is in the name. Here are a few common deceptive designs:
Sneak into Basket
One common form of deceptive design pattern is the “Sneak into Basket” technique. This one is pretty self-explanatory but involves surreptitiously adding items to a user’s shopping cart or basket without their explicit consent, often resulting in unintended purchases.
This could be a warranty for the product that is actually being purchased, or a small promotional item such as a magazine, but there’s also an argument to be made for hidden fees such as service charges falling into the ‘Sneak into Basket’ category. If you don’t offer free shipping for example, it’s better to have the delivery fee displayed in the basket from the get go.
Misdirection is another deceptive pattern where users are intentionally led astray or redirected to different pages or actions, typically to serve the website’s interests rather than the user’s.
This can even be as simple as taking advantage of an established design feature such as clicking the ‘x’ in the corner of a popup to close it, but instead making that ‘x’ agree to proceeding with whatever the popup is trying to get you to do (and having the close/disagree button in small print somewhere else)
Websites sometimes employ disguised ads, making it challenging for users to distinguish between actual content and advertisements. This blurs the line between information and promotion, potentially leading to unintended clicks. For example, if you partner with a brand and they produce a blog post for you on their products or industry, this isn’t going to be impartial, and the brand should be identified as the author.
Bait and Switch
The “Bait and Switch” tactic involves luring users in with one offer and then substituting it with a less desirable option once they are committed. This can occur in various contexts, such as product offerings or subscription plans.
Why Deceptive Design Patterns Are Problematic
It should be pretty obvious why these patterns need to be avoided, and called out when they are spotted, but their negative impacts are further reaching than you probably realise.
The Impact on User Trust
Deceptive design patterns erode trust between users and brands, damaging the reputation of the business. Users who feel deceived are less likely to return, resulting in a loss of potential long-term customers. Even if users don’t realise they’re being actively deceived, these patterns still result in a very poor user experience and one they’re unlikely to want to repeat.
From an ethical standpoint, deceptive design patterns raise significant concerns. Users need to be able to trust the brands they choose which, on the most basic level, includes the links they click actually taking them where they say they will. Designers and brands can’t throw user trust down the drain by manipulating them for financial gain.
The European Union and the United States have regulations to combat deceptive design patterns. Depending on the type and context of use, certain deceptive patterns may be illegal in these regions.While not all deceptive patterns are illegal, some can cross legal boundaries. In order to stay on the right side of the regulations, it’s best to just avoid dark patterns altogether.
How to Avoid Deceptive Design Patterns in Web Design
Creating a great user experience (and an ethical one) should be a priority for web designers, which means it’s important to be aware of dark patterns to avoid falling into the trap of using them.
Designing Ethical User Experiences
Prioritise transparency, honesty, and user experience in design decisions. Ensure that your users are always fully informed and have control over their actions.
User-Centred Design Principles
Apply user-centred design principles, focusing on creating interfaces that meet your users’ needs and expectations. If your design, content, and overall user experience are on point, then you’ll get the conversions you’re aiming for.
Usability testing can be used to identify and rectify any elements of your site design that may inadvertently lead to deceptive patterns. Feedback from real users is invaluable in identifying these problems, so opening yourself up to constructive criticism can be beneficial.
Deceptive design patterns pose a significant threat to user trust, ethical standards, and legal compliance – so they should be avoided at all costs. Designers and brands need to be aware of the various forms of deceptive patterns and be honest about their own culpability when it comes to these practices.
By prioritising user-centred design principles, transparency, and ethical considerations, the entire web design industry can create a more trustworthy and user-friendly digital landscape.
If you’re looking for web designers who can create incredible sites without using any deceptive practices, then give us a shout to learn more.