Web Design & Dev

Dark UX Patterns – Dirty Things Each Designer Should Avoid

Stephen Moyers 11 June, 2018

UX design advancements are overwhelmingly beneficial, but some companies are using these advancements to manipulate users. These design practices are referred to as dark UX patterns and they are meant to subtly direct a user to certain things on a website that are advantageous to the company, but the user does not want. It is important to avoid using dark UX tactics on your website.

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What Are Dark UX Patterns?

Dark UX patterns are designs that use questionable tactics to guide online behavior. They manipulate users into various actions such as buying products and services or making it difficult to cancel orders or accounts. They can manifest in web design mistakes such as hidden phrases, odd page layouts, button colors, and font sizes.

One of the foundational problems with dark UX patterns is the lack of ethics and their invasive nature. In UX design, the focus is meant to be on creating the best environment for users. Many UX experts agree that users should not have to be on the lookout for tricks and shady tactics. Dark UX design patterns prevent users from making independent decisions, manipulating them into doing what the website or company wants them to do.

They are many specific types of dark UX patterns. Here are a few web design mistakes you should avoid to create positive UX designs.

The Bait and Switch

One of the most basic types of dark UX patterns is the bait and switch, which occurs when a user is attempting to do one thing and an unintended thing happens instead.

An example of black UX design is the bait and switch, and that’s what Microsoft did when it tried to trick people into upgrading their computers to Windows 10 in 2016. Usually, users need to physically click a button to start an upgrade. If the user does not select the option, the program assumes the upgrade isn’t wanted.

In this bait and switch, Windows users were shown a pop-up that said a time when the upgrade was occurring, and they had to click a link to cancel the upgrade. Instead of being given an option to upgrade, they were given an option to not upgrade. Additionally, closing the window became an acceptance instead of a denial. If users closed the pop-up, they were essentially agreeing to the upgrade happening on that date.

This black UX pattern tricked many people into upgrading Windows and caused a large amount of frustration from Windows users everywhere.


Confirmshaming is another common dark practice that occurs on all different types of websites. A company is using confirmshaming when it attempts to guilt a user into doing something. It usually manifests in the way a question or request is phrased. The strategy is most frequently used to get people to sign up for mailing lists.

Most websites offer options such as “please add me to the mailing list” and “please do not add me to the mailing list.” Dark UX patterns word the choices in a coercive manner. For example, a retail website using a dark practice may offer a sale in return for signing up for the email list and give the options “Yes, give me $10 off” or “No, I would rather pay full price.” The phrasing makes the user feel like a fool for choosing no, shaming them into signing up for the emails.

Disguised Ads

Disguised ads are one of the most blatant dark UX patterns. It happens when websites disguise ads as other types of content in an attempt to get users to click on them. One example of this is making an advertisement seem like a download option. A user may select the ad, thinking they are downloading the software they are looking for, and be transported away from the download to the advertisement’s website.

Forced Continuity

Forced continuity is used by websites and applications for which you need to pay. It occurs when the website does not alert you when your free trial is over. If you entered your credit card when signing up for the free trial, it may begin charging you. You will not have any idea you are being charged unless you check your bank account for charges, which many people do not do on a regular basis. Once you realize you are being silently charged for the service, these sites also make it unnecessarily difficult to cancel your account.

An example of forced continuity at work is with Affinion Group, an international loyalty program company that partners with various e-commerce websites. After purchasing something through the e-commerce website, Affinion includes a button on the confirmation page that looks similar to the confirmation buttons you have clicked to complete your purchase. This button is a disguised ad.

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Many people click the button reflexively because it looks like the previous ones. When you click the button you think it a final confirmation, but it directs you to another website that tries to get you to sign up for a voucher. If you sign up for the voucher, you simultaneously sign up for a service that charges you monthly. Most people do not realize they are being charged continuously for the service until they look at their bank accounts.

Friend Spam

Spam is not an uncommon issue. Friend spam, however, is a little different. It happens when a website or product requests your social media or email information, often claiming it will help find your friends who are using the product, and then spams all your contacts and friends with a fake message that it pretends is from you.

LinkedIn ended up in serious trouble in 2015 because it used friend spam. After signing up, LinkedIn would ask you to grant them access to your email so they can grow your professional network on the site. However, it would secretly send emails to all your contacts inviting them to join the LinkedIn network. The emails were disguised to appear that you personally sent them.

Hidden Costs

Hidden costs are one of the most blatant types of dark UX patterns. An e-commerce website is using hidden costs if you arrive at the last step of the checkout process, and there are charges listed that you did not select. Because it affects the bottom line, hidden costs could affect UX security issues.

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One of the reasons hidden costs are tricky is that the additional charges do not appear when you initially begin the checkout process. You are only shown the products you selected, leading you to believe everything is normal. You go through numerous steps, including entering your credit card information and the website does not reveal extra expenses for things such as “care and handling” until the final page where you just need to confirm shipping and billing information. Because you have gone through all the effort to enter your information, many people do not want to go back a redo everything and just accept the hidden costs.

Privacy Zuckering

In honor of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the dark patterns has been dubbed “privacy suckering,” which occurs when you are tricked into publicly sharing more information than you intended. For a while when Facebook first emerged, it got into trouble because it was too easy to accidentally share too much personal information. Privacy seems to have improved on the platform, but there are still many ways you can inadvertently share personal information with the public.

Avoid Dark UI Design Practices

Users trust UX designers and website developers to be honest and transparent, providing them with the best experience possible. Therefore, it is important to avoid dark UX patterns. Though they may bring in more money or business initially, dark UI design practices can ruin your reputation. If people do not trust your website, you will lose customers and any initial profiting from the tricks will quickly end.

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Tags: user centered design user experience user interface UX web design mistakes web design tips
Author: Stephen Moyers
Stephen Moyers is an online marketer, designer, avid tech-savvy blogger. He is associated with Los Angeles Web Design Agency SPINX Digital. He loves to write about web design, development, online marketing, social media and much more. Apart from writing, he loves traveling & photography. Follow Stephen on Twitter.