Dark patterns: User interfaces designed to trick people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
Harry Brignull, a user-experience (UX) consultant who has a PhD in cognitive science, coined dark patterns for a presentation he gave earlier this month at the UX Brighton Conference. Brignull explained the concept on his blog, 90 Percent of Everything:
Normally we think of bad design as consisting of laziness, mistakes, or school-boy errors. We refer to these sorts of design patterns as Antipatterns. However, there’s another kind of bad design pattern, one that’s been crafted with great attention to detail, and a solid understanding of human psychology, to trick users into do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. This is the dark side of design, and since these kind of design patterns don’t have a name, I’m proposing we start calling them Dark Patterns.
Brignull’s examples include low-cost airlines that put insurance in your basket without asking; social-networking sites that “purposefully make it hard for you to shrink your social graph or move your content into private realms (I’m looking at you, Facebook)”; and systems that require you to log in “using a long-forgotten password” in order to unsubscribe.
Dark patterns are not the same as “outright scams,” Brignull writes. The latter are “clumsy and easy to identify.” Rather, dark patterns are “techniques used by above-board products and services that trick users into doing things.”
In the three-dimensional world, slanty design—a term coined by British interactivity researcher Russell Beale—is somewhat analogous to dark patterns. Slanty design is “design that purposely reduces aspects of functionality or usability”; however, its objectives don’t necessarily include siphoning cash from the user. For example, a cone-shaped disposable cup that discourages the user from leaving it on a table is a slanty design that promotes a social good.