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7 Dark UX Patterns and Their Negative Impact on Your Brand Reputation

7 Dark UX Patterns and Their Negative Impact on Your Brand Reputation

by Adrian Ababei on Dec 21 2016
Will you be a superhero or a villain? What are you going to do with all those superpowers that UX invests you with? 
 
Will you be a superhero willing to build trust and to nourish long term relationships with his/her users or a manipulative villain driven by his urge to get his numbers up at all costs?
 
UX invests you with so much power! It practically reveals to you all the valuable cognitive psychological biases, all the mechanisms to use for triggering certain emotions in your customers (pride, greed, anger, envy etc.) and for manipulating them to act in certain ways.
 
It's this power that can either help you gain success or ruin you (you sooner or letter)!
 
A solid understanding of user psychology, when used the right way, will help you "perfect" your visitor's journey on your website. It gives you the ideal resources for making this journey as logical, intuitive, pleasant and meaningful as possible. Good UX leads to happy customers first, then to loyal customers!
 
A solid understanding of user psychology, when used the “bad” way will help you deceive your visitors, through certain tricks applied to your interface. It will help you influence them to carry out certain actions that are beneficial exclusively for your business: purchasing, subscribing, installing your software on their devices, revealing the details of their credit cards etc.
 
In this respect, here are some of the most “popular” manipulative design practices that have taken over the internet (being widely used even by some of the most influential brands, too) and that we advise you to stay away from (“Better safe than sorry!”):

 

1. The Disguised Ads 

 
You click on what looks like “genuine” copy and "Boom!": a commercial pops up on your screen or (and this is the really bad scenario) a software starts to download on your device!
 
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you been there already? Have you visited that website since the “incident”?
 
Well, if you've already been a “victim” yourself, then you (should) have even more reasons to empathize with your own customers: don't use disguised ads on your website! It will only grant you (really) short term gains, but you'll lose a potentially loyal customer (which is gold) and credibility.

 

2. The Roach Motel

 
Here is another tricky web design practice that's widely used by web/apps owners, accepted and “perceived” as “an innocent little scam” (pick a web developer at random and he/she will deny that the "roach motel" might be considered as a “truly” deceiving practice). When it fact it's nothing but a skillfully crafted means to trick and to retain users.
 
You convince them to subscribe to your newsletter or to sign up for your your software free trial, then you turn the whole process of unsubscribing into a discouraging “ordeal”.  
 
By deceiving your users and hiding away from them the information on how they can close their accounts, you will get them hooked on your product for a long, long, long time!
 
Step into the light! Use your UX superpowers the right way:

 
  • inform your users, from the very beginning, that they'll actually need to call you or to write to you if they decide to unsubscribe
  • make your unsubscribing method(s) visible on your website 
 
Turn UX into a force for good!

 

3. The Forced Continuity

 
This UX design practice is so ingrained into the digital world that you might even not perceive it as “dark”, but simply as “common”.
 
How does it work? Picture this scenario: you “lure” your online customers to sign up to your free trial and it's at this point, as well, that you ask them for their credit card details. You're also cunning enough to let them know that they have total control over their accounts, meaning that they get to cancel their memberships any time after the trial period if they're not satisfied with your product (or due to any other reason). 
 
What you (let's assume that it's you who is using this “devilish” UX technique) rely on is that in many cases users forget to unsubscribe after the trial period and that you get to keep charging them, since you have their credit card details.
 
In those rare cases when they do remember to close their accounts, you'll make it as discouragingly hard for them to do that as possible.
 
Tricky isn't it? We, at OPTASY, our web design company in Toronto, think it's just “lame” to “glue” customers to your products against their will instead of making them desire your product!
 
Step into the light and use your UX superpowers the right way:

 
  • notify your customers once the end trail ends and give them the possibility to choose whether they cancel or continue to use your product/service
  • make your cancellation method/policy visible on your website

     

4. The Sneak Into Basket

 
Now this is one annoying UX design practice (from the online shopper's perspective), that way too many e-commerce websites continue to use!
 
How does it work? Let's assume you're the next “victim”: you add an item to your shopping cart and you then realize that the website has automatically added another product or service (such as insurance), that you don't want to purchase. Or at least you would have preferred to be asked if you wanted to purchase it before instead of having it “sneaked into” your basket.
 
OK, so you might “trick” some clients and increase your gains, but just imagine all the negative publicity that all those frustrated customers will create around your brand! 
 
Not only that you'll lose those specific customers, but by spreading the news about the bad experience they will have had on your site, they'll discourage your potential customers, as well, from ever accessing your site.

 

5. The Misdirection/ The Bait and Switch

 
A more than suggestive short description of this deceiving practice would be: changing the patterns that you've set up on your website and that your user will have got accustomed to, without warning him/her!
 
Therefore, you take him/her by surprise and “trick” him into performing a certain action.
 
In most cases it's about clicking a link/button which, till then, used to lead to a certain page, with no exception: your visitor will click on it without knowing that he/she has just bitten your “bait”.

 
Now try to imagine the long-term consequences, especially if you're using this deceiving technique for tricking your customers to spend their money on certain items on your website! 
 
Step into the light! Use your UX superpowers the right way:

 
  • make all the options of same size and equally visible
  • ask for your user's confirmation: give him the choice to either continue or to cancel 

     

6. The Scarcity Inflation 

 
Admit it it! How many times a day does your inbox get “loaded” with newsletters striving to catch your attention and to make you react immediately to expressions such as: “Only 1 hour left till”, “Hurry Up! The sales end today”, “Only a few left!” etc.?
 
This deceiving pattern, too, is “exploited” to such extent in the highly competitive digital world (where competition for customers is truly fierce), that you may even not even perceive it as “sinister” and manipulative. 
 
But it sure is! Our advice for you is not to go there: don't “exploit” your users' emotional biases towards scarcity and limited availability. Building trust should be one of  UX design's most honorable goals!
 
Unless, of course, you do have limited availability to certain products/services that you promote on your website.
 

7. The Trick Questions

 
Resist the temptation to “exploit” users' tendency to (just) scan through the written content on a website and to use deceiving copy for disguising opt-in buttons as opt-out buttons!
 
Be better than that! Be future-oriented instead of (just) “hunting” only short-term gains!
 
Put these 7 UX patterns on your “Not To-Do List” and decide to put on your superhero “costume” instead of your villain mask!
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