The Dark Side of UX

s-l300The field of UX is the amalgamation of usability and empathy. We design according to user needs and wants. This is the understood goal, which seems noble. We fix the bad and help users have a satisfying experience. But there is another type of bad design.

There is a side of user experience that uses the same research and findings of usability and user needs to work against users and trick them. Why? For most websites, it’s to make money–all at the user’s expense. In the minds of many UX professionals, our work is a noble cause by easing frustration for all. So to have others purposefully use UX principles against users, seems unethical.


This trend of dark UX was first brought to light by, which created a pattern library with the intent of exposing (or as they like to say, “name and shame”) companies that use dark patterns in user interfaces. By doing so, Dark Patterns believes that the outcome is beneficial to different stakeholders:

For consumers, forewarned is fore-armed.

For brand-owners, the bad-press associated with being named as an offender should discourage usage.

For designers, this site provides ammunition to refuse unethical requests by our clients / bosses. (e.g. “I won’t implement opt-out defaults for the insurance upsells because that practice is considered unethical and it will get you unwanted bad press.”)

What are some of these dark patterns?

  • Forced Continuity: ex. Signing up for a free trial with your credit card. Companies (rightly) assume that if they don’t notify you, you’ll forget to cancel for a while)
  • “Roach Motel”: puts a user in a situation that makes it difficult to get out of (which encompasses the majority of dark patterns)
  • Misdirection
  • Disguised Ads
  • Bait and Switch

So how do we fight the Dark Side?

As with any problem, the first step is to identify that there is one. Dark Patterns has accomplished this and has succeeded in forcing some exposed websites to change their interfaces. Public relations and brand identity is a huge component of consumer behavior. When companies have sites that feature dark patterns are outed, consumer opinion is important enough to make them change their interfaces.

In recent years, as UX has become more established, there has been a call for a code of conduct from some professionals while others have talked about regulation. Another option for combating these dark patterns is to learn from them in order to eliminate them. Kai-Ting Huang suggests using techniques of dark patterns (which is essentially persuasive/behavioral design) to drive positive change or design in a way that these dark patterns are not necessary to retaining customers. Both of which would take time, creativity, and maybe even some innovation.