Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are design choices that trick users into taking an unintended action or preventing them from taking an action. Examples are, tricking a user to subscribe to a service, and then making it difficult for them to unsubscribe by hiding the unsubscribe button. UX (user experience) designers are trained to think about how people interact with technology. Unfortunately, this knowledge can also be used to deceive users. They are using human psychology to their advantage hoping users will get frustrated and give up or click the wrong option accidentally.

There are many forms of dark patterns. Harry Brignull started the website darkpatterns.org in 2010 to identify and highlight the most egregious offenders. The three most common are the Misdirection, Confirmshaming, and the Roach Motel.

Misdirection is when a website establishes a pattern and then exploits that pattern. An example would be as a user is filling out a form, then clicks a green button to go to the next step, green button, next step, green button, next step. Then at the end of the process, the option to opt into a $10/month service is a green button, and the option to continue without the monthly service fee is black text on a white background. Misdirection also occurs if an option for “yes” is highlighted in red, or an option for “no” is highlighted in green. These design decisions are made to confuse the user and make them click what the business wants them to click.

Confirmshaming is a tactic to guilt users into agreeing to a service or signing up for an email list. These are often found on shopping websites where the language will say, “Sign up for mailing list” and the alternative is “No, I want to pay full price.” In some cases, the pop up creates more urgency with added “One time offer” language.


The Roach Motel is familiar to many users. This dark pattern centers around the idea it is easy to get in, but difficult to get out. Have you ever had to Google how to unsubscribe from a service? A Roach Motel purposefully hides the cancel option, and possibly makes users go through multiple confusing confirmations to finally cancel the service. Amazon is famous for how difficult it is to cancel an account. Darkpatterns.org has a great video on all the steps a user has to navigate to cancel an Amazon account, and then at the end of the process the user has to chat with an Amazon specialist because the user actually cannot cancel the membership on their own. Amazon must cancel the membership.

Dark patterns take advantage of psychology and short attention spans. Users get frustrated and give up trying to cancel that monthly membership or email blast. However, with some education and the occasional search engine dive, users can navigate this world of purposefully bad UX design.

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Posted by Charles Wright