Dark patterns: Designing with bad intent

In the book, Web strategy for Everyone, I’m writing a lot on different kind of design principles. One of them is Persuasive Web Design, how to design to be persuasive and strive for users fulfilling the websites objective. When trying to be convincing you have to be considerate of the user’s interest, otherwise you might end up designing a so-called dark pattern?

 “It is all about lowering the threshold for decisions and guiding a series of micro-decisions towards the goal you have. Here the concept of dark pattern introduces itself. That, by design, you control what happens in a way that is not in the user’s best interest, or intention. It could be moving around buttons so the user happens to give an app a five-star rating in an app store, without warning, adding additional products to the shopping cart, or services sending e-mails to your contacts claiming to be you.”
Web Strategy for Everyone, chapter Persuasive Web Design

Defining a design decision as a dark pattern is when it’s not in the user’s best interest. Thus, one can actually speak about certain design decisions being evil. Of course, it is not always entirely clear what is a dark pattern and which isn’t. To work with persuasive methods is a most natural consequence of competition.

Current example: Microsoft changes the convention of the close button

That Microsoft has a tough time now, no one can have missed. The former software giant, the ‘monopolist’, is undergoing their own digital transformation. We as users seem less and less engaged about the software platform we choose, and beyond that, Microsoft has at least 2-3 times completely failed to become a major player in the mobile space. Just yesterday they fired almost 2000 employees from the mobile division, formerly Nokia, which Microsoft bought only two years ago.

Somewhere where they still dominate is the classic desktop computer space and the software related to it. Their latest operating system, Windows 10, apparently needed a little extra boost in the number of users. Interestingly, they chose to run with the ugly trick of a dark pattern to get more people to upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8 to Windows 10.

Upgrade to Windows 10 (photo cred: Microsoft)

What do you think happens if you click on the red button in the dialog that asks if you want to upgrade to Windows 10? Normally, the convention is unmistakingly obvious that close the dialog and you are ignoring the message, and nothing happens.

Microsoft’s creative solution, on the other hand, when the user closed the dialog the user gave their consent, which for the majority of users feels shady to say the least. Microsoft is simply ignoring the convention they would always adhere to, what the button is there to do. Since only Microsoft is to gain from such a design decision it is an archetype of a dark pattern. Shame on you, Microsoft!

In other words, as long time Microsoft journalist Paul Thurrot puts it:

Last week, Microsoft silently changed Get Windows 10 yet again. And this time, it has gone beyond the social engineering scheme that has been fooling people into inadvertently upgrading to Windows 10 for months. This time, it actually changed the behavior of the window that appears so that if you click the “Close” window box, you are actually agreeing to the upgrade. Without you knowing what just happened.

Previously, closing this window would correctly signal that you do not want the upgrade. So Microsoft didn’t change the wording in the window. It didn’t make an “Upgrade now” button bigger, or a non-existent “don’t ever upgrade” button smaller. It pulled a switcheroonie.

Do you have any examples of dark patterns? Tell me!

Do not forget to take a look at the book Web Strategy for Everyone, it talks a great deal about how to design convincing but with usability in mind.

— update May 29th – Verizon Fios

Twitter user mixonic exposes Verizon Fios

As Twitter user Mixonic exposed, Verizon Fios is using a randomized number to tell how many agents are waiting for your call. Lying is a great start for a long-lasting relationship, right?

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