While a lot of bad interface design can be blamed on ‘not knowing any better’, there is also a more sinister form of bad design called “dark patterns” in which case bad design can be blamed on malfeasance; the interface is explicitly designed to confuse and/or trick the user.
These “dark patterns” were new to me (I first saw mention of them a few weeks ago via a tweet from @willsansbury that linked to a summary of Aaron Walters’ Interface Design Bootcamp, and Mr. Walter’s post included a link to the Dark Patterns Wiki) but the concept of consciously using psychology & UX methodology to mislead the user was unexpected and quite intriguing.
Then the next day my friend and awesome-UX guru Tyesha Snow posted Dark Pattern: Now You See it Now You Don’t on her blog. Two days two mentions of dark patterns; suddenly it was all up in my face and I wanted to know more.
There are, of course, several ways to define exactly what dark patterns are but Tyesha did a great job of boiling exactly what a dark pattern is so I’ll share hers here:
Site designers place the functionality or information they want you to find front and center, then move it once you have completed the desirable behavior so you are less likely to undo said desirable behavior or re-find information that does not support the business’s plans for you.
and then she uses an example of trying to “Unlike” a business that you’ve previously “Liked” on Facebook, and how incredibly tedious and convoluted that process is. Sensitive to how ugly a big UNLIKE button would be she provides
several suggestions that balance the user needs, business goals and overall aesthetics of the site. Again you should check out that post.
Both of the blog posts I mentioned above link to the Dark Patterns wiki that lists the most common and documented dark patterns and gives real-life examples from various corporate websites. This “naming and shaming” helps in a number of ways including potentially informing the consumer to be wary of malicious techniques, shaming brand-owners into ceasing to use dark patterns and having a defined and documented source to point to can help UX professionals & designers push back on requests for unethical design practices.