When we think about UX, the first thing that comes to mind are products and services designed specifically to provide a high level of user satisfaction. That is, user experience as a positive attribute, which adds value and focuses on the users and their needs.
However, the same tools used every day to improve customers’ experiences can also be used to deceive and obtain benefits at the expense of their good faith. This is what we call Dark UX or Dark UX Patterns.
In brief, we speak of Dark UX when, through the on-screen organization of elements or navigation flows, the users get confused or frustrated and they can not do what they want or perform an unwanted action. UX techniques are therefore used to achieve business objectives against the users’ interest.
Five of the most common techniques
1 – Bait and switch:
The users are offered an action and when they click, something completely different happens.
Here, the users beleive that by clicking on the cross icon the panel will close (since that is the known and expected affordance of the cross). However, the action opens a new tab to register for the premium service. Thus, instead of closing the ad to go on surfing, the users are interrupted and immediately redirected to a purchase screen.
2 – Confirmshaming:
The aim is to discredit the users with a derogatory comment about the action they are about to take, which is against the interests of the business.
In these cases, the overall point is to manipulate the users, making them believe they do not know what is convenient for them. They have to see their decision as unwise.
3 – Disguised ads:
This is a widely used technique, in which ads are hidden, disguised as other type of content or navigation. Generally, they are shown as news or calls to action, similar to those on the web.
In this download site, we can see that the ads styling are almost identical to the the site’s aesthetics. They use the same type of CTA, with a similar color palette, and a generic text that make it difficult to distinguish between the ads to the rest of the content.
4 – Roach motel:
In this case, we speak of those situations -and there are many- in which registering for a service is very simple, but almost impossible to withdraw from it. We face these situations, for example, when unsubscribing from a mailing list, where the steps are difficult to identify, complex to follow, or non-existent altogether.
To close the account in this service, instead of giving the option to do it online (as it was at the time of subscription), the company requires the users to communicate by phone at specific days and times, with the consequent complication this generates for the client.
5 – Sneak into basket:
This is another common use technique. It consists on adding products by default to the cart during an online purchase, so that the users does not realize they are acquiring more products or services than desired.
In this example, we see that in the first step the option to contract the plan for 36 months (the longest period offered) is selected by default. And in the Additional Services section (fourth step), there are free and paid items visually very similar to each other, which are selected by default. Here we are showing an excerpt, but it is a more extensive form, in which it is very easy to overlook these details.
Which are the pros and cons?
These techniques are widespread because they make the users perform the expected actions. Everyone at some point has fallen into the trap, whether we have noticed it or not. Thus, using them results in reaching certain business objectives. More sales are made, there are fewer unsubscribes and more visits are obtained, among other apparent improvements.
However, these resources tend to have a negative impact on credibility and brand image, both of which are difficult to build and maintain. The metrics improve momentarily, but then the effect is counterproductive. Social networks are also great disseminators of this type of situations.
From the UX area, it is always important to make clear of the consequences of using these resources, and then work on the best alternatives or solutions for each case, through user-centered design and usability. This way, we meet the needs of both the company and the users, maximizing the benefits for both.