A world of dark patterns

We’ve created a world of noise. A world filled with notifications, promotional emails, press releases and advertising billboards, all vying for our attention and clogging our day with distractions. How did we get to this state, and what can we do about it?

Look at your inbox. How many emails do you have currently in there? Who are they from? Sure, there are probably a few from your parents or from your friends, but the majority are probably from companies, offering you money off something, or perhaps a sale coming up. Look outside – if you live in an urban area that’s not Grenoble or Sao Paolo, chances are you don’t have to go far before you see a billboard, advertising something. Now, ask yourself, do you really need, or want those things they’re offering? Chances are, probably not. We’ve created an ecosystem of noise, where, to paraphrase Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club, “we buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like”. There are whole industries set up to try and persuade you to part with your money, by making something you don’t actually need attractive enough for you to think it’s worth it.

In UX, this is what’s known as a dark pattern. It’s basically fooling the user into performing an action that they don’t actually want to do. We’ve all seen them before: the “Like us on Facebook” modal window that pops up on top of the article you’re trying to read, where they’ve hidden the close button, so most users think the only way to get it to go away is to click the one button on the window – the one that adds a Like to the company’s page, or the form where the sign up button is huge and ostentatious, and the “no thanks” button is a tiny text link underneath. These patterns trick the user into performing an action that is more in the interest of the company setting it up, than that of the person performing it. This, I’m sure you will agree, is wrong, and needs to change.

 

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