Dark UI patterns are deceptive parts of UI intended to trick users toward actions they might not want to take. While they might appear to improve metrics, they are unsustainable in the long run. Let’s look at why they’re ultimately bad for business.
What Are Dark UI Patterns?
According to Harry Brignull, London-based UX designer, “The Dark Patterns Guy” (and Tuts+ instructor):
“Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps UI that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn't mean to.”
From ads on mobile devices that add a spec to distract the user into a “swipe up” action on their screen, thereby opening up the ad on a second page, to adverts that are disguised as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to get you to click on them.
The purpose of dark UI patterns is to use design principles around human psychology negatively so they benefit the business at the expense of the users.
Short Term Benefits
It is faulty thinking to assume that UI tactics that encourage the user to take a path they didn’t mean to take will lead to a positive business outcome. While this may seem true, any benefits in revenue or conversion will be offset by the damage done when users realize they have been deceived.
Companies looking to take shortcuts to increase profit and metrics will find that dark UI patterns have a long term impact of decreasing user trust and happiness in the brand.
Once users realize they’ve taken actions they don’t necessarily want, they will likely feel outraged and frustrated. Users do not want to be taken advantage of, to lose privacy, to be spammed by misdirecting popups, or to inadvertently navigate to pages upon pages of advertisements. These patterns go against the tenets of UX and are the antithesis of being empathetic to the needs and desires of the user.
Sustainability and Long Term Growth
Designers these days heavily rely on data to make decisions so the design process becomes less subjective. However in certain areas, such as the long term impact of design it becomes important to rely on design principles to ensure success, rather than short term conversion or revenue gains.
It can be tempting to measure designs that have dark patterns and argue that they perform better, but this is a short-sighted approach. The long term consequences are damaging qualitative metrics such as trust and credibility. These factors matter more for long term success, because a loyal customer base which believes your brand to be trustworthy and credible makes for a more sustainable business model over time.
In order to build products and experiences that people love to use, we must focus on quality and building a trustworthy reputation rather than short term gains. Companies that are known to focus on meeting user needs will ultimately have the competitive advantage in an increasingly populated marketplace. If you want to build successful products and experiences, it is best practice to avoid these unethical and deceptive dark UI patterns.