Observed: The Light Side of Dark Patterns

Is the dark side always evil? Sometimes, it’s just a matter of perspective.

Recently Harry Brignull shared his thoughts on Dark Patterns at UX Brighton. If you have not had a chance to listen to the presentation, I recommend it for anyone in the UX field, especially those engaged in Ecommerce and marketing. In short, Brignull discusses the notion of what could be perceived as malicious or evil design – not in the sense of design that hurts the user, but by subtly adding unnecessary features to a customer’s cart, making it difficult to unsubscribe from a distribution list, or by simply hiding the cheaper more likely choice in lieu of more profitable options. I should say, I agree with the existence of these patterns and the overal gist of what is said.

Much of what Brignull discusses is around the e-commerce realm. Purchasing of insurance or extra premium packages, subscribing to email threads, and spamming your twitter feed (remember Twifficiency?)

How might additional checks and balances be implemented on an application to support user goals and workflow? What if the system recognized an external email address and automatically checked the box for additional verification to ensure sensitive documents are not sent to the wrong third party? Or if the application is able to buffer a transaction with downtime and additional forms? These would not be seen as Dark Patterns, as they are intended for positive reinforcment of a task. But where is that line drawn? The difference between a Dark Pattern and a positive hurdle is a matter of perspective. As users become more aware of this technique, it will be harder to sneak in unwanted features. First Five Followers is one example of this, where after the backlash from Twifficiency the developers have made it abundantly clear to ensure the privacy of the user’s public feed. So as Dark Patterns become more common and expected, and designers resolve new methods to sneak in additional options, how are these used for positive interactions? Not all dark patterns are done with malicious intent. Even Luke used the dark side of the force from time to time for positive results.

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Top Image: Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, 1983

David Farkas

David is an interaction(s) designer working in the online and mobile realm. He focuses on the relation between the digital and the physical. Usability, goal oriented design, and consistency are key.

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