Nick Disabato (@nickd) gave a talk on Dark Patterns at IxDA Atlanta on Wednesday night. Dark Patterns are, to quote the Dark Patterns wiki:

Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of laziness or mistakes. These are known as design anti-patterns. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.

Here are my notes from the talk:

Grey’s law applies – “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” It’s a slippery slope from bad design to dishonest design.

Dark patterns often make it into the wild because they test well and get good results (e.g., more signups, more sales). However, they erode trust and goodwill in the long term.

Common characteristics of dark patterns:

  • Low volition exercised by user
  • Low usability
  • Easy to gloss over
  • Unconventional interfaces

Common dark patterns:

  • Disguised ads
  • Sneak into basket
  • Opt in subscription – signing you up for a subscription without your permission
  • Misdirection
  • Forced disclosure
  • False incentives – e.g. “Tweet this to get an invite” but no way to actually track it
  • Invitation pyramid schemes – e.g. “Invite three friends to get access.” Defies the point of limiting invitations.
  • Annoying defaults – e.g. LinkedIn emails
  • Roach motel – easy to sign up, have to call or fax to get off list
  • Flagrant lying – e.g. “Give this app five stars in order to increase the speed of development.” What?

So how do you make a business case for avoiding for avoid dark patterns? Dark Patterns burn good will with your customers.

How do you measure the impact of dark patterns?

  • Repeat visits
  • Customer service calls
  • Rate of new sign ups
  • Problems on social media

Alan Cooper: Your software is “The pipeline to your corporate soul”

Avoid dark patterns by managing expectations:

  • hierarchy – shows what’s important
  • timing – e.g., doing upsells after the transaction is complete
  • choosing good defaults
  • simplicity vs complexity
  • copy and tone – show that we are people creating the web

Money quote: