User experience plays a massive part in influencing the design and development of the web. Making the UX of a website pleasant and meaningful for the end-user can help nurture a relationship between a business and its user, consequently establishing a more positive experience and outcome for both parties.
With overall sales and customer retention being at the forefront of most businesses’ online strategy, some UX designs are implemented with the sole purpose of achieving this goal; irrelevant of how the user feels about their experience.
Introducing: Dark Patterns
The term ‘dark patterns’ was coined by an independent user experience designer in London called Harry Brignull. The term is used to describe deceptive user interfaces that have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things that they may not otherwise be aware they are doing. These dark patterns are becoming common around the web, giving companies quick wins for profits, but leaving users less likely to use a company’s services again.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 update notification recently attracted criticism for using deceptive UX. Users of previous versions of Windows received a pop up recommending them to upgrade to Windows 10, giving them the option to click an ‘Upgrade Now’ link, an ‘OK’ button, or the standard close the window red cross in the top right of the pop up. Many users clicked the red X, expecting that this would be the last of the recommended update, however Microsoft had set this action to act as permission for the machine to update in the background!
Microsoft isn’t the only company using dark patterns to confuse users, and although this is deemed a UX trick, it isn’t necessarily the UX designer’s fault. Many companies use these tricks simply because employees have targets to hit, irrelevant of how they achieve them. Microsoft claims that Windows 10 is running on 350 million devices around the world – but this begs the question, how many of those devices have been upgraded by tricking the user? Yes, 350 million sounds impressive, but Microsoft may have also alienated many loyal customers that didn’t want the upgrade.
Another common example of this tactic being used is based around subscription fees. Currently, a number of services including Apple Music and Tidal try to get subscribers by offering a free trial to begin with. Whilst there is nothing wrong with offering free trials, they also take bank details before they allow a user to enter into the free trial. The paid subscription is then set to automatically renew once the trial period finishes, even if the user does not wish to continue past the free trial. The layout and overall UX of these platforms makes it difficult for users to navigate to the “opt out” or “cancel subscription” options, leading them through layers of different settings to reach this option, meaning the user often abandons trying to cancel the subscription, thus falling into a paid-for rolling contract.
Facebook also exploits the use of dark patterns; a prime example of this in action is when a user wishes to deactivate their Facebook profile. After finding ‘Deactivate your Account’ in settings (hidden at the bottom of the security page), a user must then click a reason for deactivating their account. However, once a user clicks an option, a modal appears suggesting an alternative to deactivation on almost every one of the options. This modal box is intentionally put there to prevent the user from doing something Facebook doesn’t want them to do.
These patterns are becoming valuable tactics to help companies hit targets and gain sales in the short term, by alienating users’ decisions. Although these deceptions offer short-term solutions and quick wins for companies, in the long term, it is key to gain a customer’s loyalty and trust; and improving UX is a great way to do that. User experience design is about allowing users to experience a site in an easy, logical way – not about forcing them down certain paths which benefit only the businesses themselves.
Don’t fall for the short term benefits of deceptive UX. Contact our design and development team here for a bespoke service.