Why are dark patterns used?

A dark pattern design is a type of user interface created with the sole intention of tricking website visitors. If you remember pop-ups in the early days of the internet, dark patterns are just as annoying and even more harmful. Ultimately, the goal of dark patterns it to gain short-term increased profitability by confusing and deceiving customers.

A Princeton Univeristy study discovered that about 11 percent of online shopping sites use some sort of dark pattern technique. Surprisingly, a lot of popular websites use these techniques.

Dark patterns are used for a variety of reasons, like to disguise hidden costs or make customers purchase items or services they didn’t mean to buy. Using dark patterns is a dishonest technique that may result in more short-term profit for businesses but isn’t helpful in the long run.

Some of the most common dark pattern tricks used in web design

The best way to protect yourself from being affected by dark patterns is by staying internet savvy. If something feels a bit off when you’re perusing sites online, you’re probably right. The following are four frequently used dark pattern techniques, but there are heaps more and new techniques are always emerging.  

1. Invisible unsubscribe buttons

One of the most popular dark pattern techniques is the invisible unsubscribe button. You might be stuck in an endless loop of marketing emails with seemingly no way out because a company has made their unsubscribe button font the same colour as the background colour.

2. Free trials aren’t as free as they seem

You may have experienced the headache of signing up for a free trial that somehow has become a paid opt-in even though you never signed up for the paid service. Some companies will offer free trials for premium services with details about automatic opt-ins in extremely tiny font.

3. What’s sneaking into your shopping cart?

Another common technique (which has been banned in many countries) is the automatic addition of products in your online shopping cart. You may be online shopping and suddenly realise you have an extra candle or shirt that you didn’t want to purchase already in your shopping cart.

4. You have to do ‘x’ to be able to do ‘y’

Has an online shop ever required that you sign up for an account before browsing through their product database? Have you ever had to sign up for a membership before reading through a free news article? These annoying extra steps often allows sites to gather your details so they can send you promotional material that you didn’t really want.

Are dark patterns ethical?

Although many dark patterns aren’t necessarily illegal, some are. As a whole, these tactics just aren’t ethical. Dark patterns are rooted in deceit, so it’s better to focus on creating great user experience instead of relying on sneaky web design techniques to make money.

Dark patterns often prey on those who don’t know any better and aren’t very internet savvy. This isn’t good web design practice.

Will using dark patterns help grow my business?

In the short-term, using dark patterns may help grow your business-- but not for the right reasons. Sure, you could get some people to sign up for free trials that shift into paid premium services, but once they finally opt out, you’ll have lost their trust and their business.

Have more questions? Ask a trusted web development and web design agency.

Digital Bridge is a Melbourne-based web design, web development, and website management company. We specialise in providing clients with well-rounded digital services. If you have any questions about your website, you can reach out to us at hello@digitalbridge.com.au or give us a ring at +613 8658 2434.