Dark Pattern Design Gets You Every Time — And That’s Not a Good Thing

Pre-selected checkboxes. Need I say more? That is Dark Pattern Design. There is a perception vs reality chasm between what’s being offered on any given on-line option box and what the customer believes she/he is receiving.

If UX Design can be described as the process by which a designer tries to determine what a customer experience will be, then Dark Pattern Design can be defined as the creation of misleading conditions which will drive the customer to unknowingly act favorably towards a pre-determined experience.

Take a closer look at the featured graphic (from TechCrunch):

  • Opt in. Means you want to sign up for something
  • Don’t opt out. Means you also want to sign up for something
  • Don’t not opt in. Means… you… still… want to sign up for something.
  • Opt out all (grey scale, small type) Means you DO NOT want to sign up for something

Potential customers are in a hurry. They are irritated with all these questions. They just want some info. And so, they click one of the top three given options quickly. Dark Pattern Design just got them to sign up for a subscription or worse, opening the door to personal data being raided.

Manipulative timing is a key element of dark pattern design

Natasha Loma, writing in a July 1, 2018 piece in TechCrunch provides a rather extensive walk-through of the dangers to consumers of Dark Pattern Design, as well as the negative fallout to the reputations of business that are caught employing these deceptive practices. She slaps Facebook around quit often, and deservedly so, but by no means is FB the only internet company out there running a mis-direction shell game on customers.

She writes, “The technique, as it’s deployed online today, often feeds off and exploits the fact that content-overloaded consumers skim-read stuff they’re presented with, especially if it looks dull and they’re in the midst of trying to do something else — like sign up to a service, complete a purchase, get to something they actually want to look at, or find out what their friends have sent them.”

For example, let’s consider the ‘agree and continue’ button that pops up. Brightly colored. Can’t miss it. Click it to get to the next step and you have bypassed a service’s terms and conditions, and therefore signed off understanding what you’ve agreed to. Complain later? It was brightly colored. You could not miss it.

Same applies for those infamous pre-selected checkboxes. Right there, in plain sight. How did you miss it?

Contrast that with the rather lengthy Terms of Service options. On the surface, ToS appear to require being checked off one at a time, when there is instead one easily locatable opt out option buried at the end. That is called “friction.”

Deception is the long game that almost always fails in the end

With the massive negative publicity from the lack of clear opt outs during the Cambridge Analytica mess and the arrival of new stringent European watchdog legislation  (GDPR, anyone?), things may finally be changing.

Loma foresees “Rising mistrust, rising anger, more scandals, and — ultimately — consumers abandoning brands and services that creep them out and make them feel used. Because no one likes feeling exploited. And even if people don’t delete an account entirely they will likely modify how they interact, sharing less, being less trusting, less engaged, seeking out alternatives that they do feel good about using.”

As a Social Media Manager or Small Business Owner doing your own marketing, do you employee any of these Dark Pattern Design practices to mislead your customers? Whether you do or don’t, this TechCrunch article deserves your attention.

In dealing with moving your customer down the sales funnel what’s more important to you?

  • Opt in to make the sale
  • Opt out to build brand trust

{Your thoughts are ALWAYS welcome. Turn this into a conversation either here or on my Twitter account @amssvs}

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