Dark Patterns – so what’s all this about then?

Dark Patterns – so what’s all this about then?

Experienced web and online content designers are very clever people with incredible talents and artistic flair. When these skills are applied in the interests of the viewer (i.e. the person who is reading the website), the experience of landing on a web page can be a good one. A viewer is retained and indeed may well click through to other pages to obtain more information as their attention has been piqued. Nice design, clever. Useful even.

Dark Patterns are a somewhat sinister side of design work. The designers’ brief is not a positive one (to you and I at least) as the aim is to trick viewers and/or capture information that otherwise we would not give. A simplistic example of this is when there are opt-in or opt-out tick boxes for us to carry on receiving emails or snailmail – sometimes these are worded in such a way that makes it hard to know whether to tick or not; sometimes the next box is worded reverse so that if we skim read, and most of us do on the web, we will do the wrong thing on the second box. Then our mailbox is inundated with yet more spam.Tick Box

If you think my silly example above is not representative of the real world, take a look at this from SKY when creating your Sky ID:

Sky ID

The conclusion as you skim read is a ticked box gets you offers. Actually the reverse!

The tick boxes are a simple yet quite effective example of designers creating a system to catch us out. There are other more subtle methods and traps that designers conjure up. Maybe we should not forget these designers are generally good people but their employers are making them do this!

One of the biggest prizes of dark patterns has to go to one of the low cost airlines, the name of which I shall not mention here:

When presented with the “Enter Passenger Information” box there is a further box with a drop down menu for Country. The passenger cannot proceed without completing the Country drop down box. 

The psychology here is intelligent – passenger information is crucial to our flight, we should fill this box in. Clearly the Country of the passenger is also important. Yet if we have skimmed this box (and we do) we may not have noticed that the Country box is actually an acceptance of an insurance policy purchase. By choosing UK (or any other country) we have just added an insurance policy to our cart and this may get carried all the way through to purchase.

You will be thinking… surely we’d notice? Well of the 100% of passengers, around 75% will. Of those that get caught out, a number will not be bothered and a small number will take action to recover the scam. The not bothered and the ones that don’t spot it represent additional profit to the company. Dark patterns work!

Worthy of note in the above example is the fact that the “I do not want insurance” sits between Latvia and Lithuania on the Country list. Thanks !

Recently we blogged about Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade acceptance dialogue box. See our blog “Microsoft Windows 10 – have you taken the plunge?“. This was designed to trick users into upgrading their PCs. The reaction to this has been very negative for Microsoft who nonetheless are sticking to their guns. See

So why this blog?

To warn people. To educate you/us. The Internet is a fantastic tool and medium for information dissemination, business and social contact. However, there is a darker side and we should be very careful whenever completing a form or filling in a purchase online. Take time to read those tick box requests carefully and above all be careful when buying a cheap airline ticket to avoid surprises!

Thanks for reading.


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