Dark Patterns: why do companies pursue strategies that make their customers regret doing business?

In this 30 minute video, Harry Brignull rounds up his work on cataloging and unpicking "Dark Patterns," (previously) the super-optimized techniques used by online services to lure their customers into taking actions they would not make otherwise and will later regret.



Dark patterns are everywhere and once you know what they are, they're easier to spot and counter.

Most interesting is how businesses decide that dark patterns are the right way to conduct their affairs, despite the long-term risks of alienating customers who've been induced to make decisions that harm them and benefit the companies: it's a combination of machine-optimization and short-term thinking, both of which are endemic in the super-financialized world of online business.

Yael Grauer spoke to a good cross-section of designers and business-people about Brignull's work:

“I am a huge fan of metrics, but it is one of the dangers of entirely metric-driven companies,” said Klein. “If you’re too metrics-driven, you’re only going to be focused on what moves a particular metric, and you will use any hack or any trick or any deceptive technique to get there.”

Klein believes many of the worst dark patterns are pushed by businesses, not by designers. “It’s often pro-business at the expense of the users, and the designers often see themselves as the defender or advocate of the user,” she explained. And although Brignull has never been explicitly asked to design dark patterns himself, he said he has been in situations where using them would be an easy solution—like when a client or boss says they really need a large list of people who have opted in to marketing e-mails.

“The first and easiest trick to have an opt-in is to have a pre-ticked checkbox, but then you can just get rid of that entirely and hide it in the terms of conditions and say that by registering you’re going to be opted in to our e-mails,” Brignull said. “Then you have a 100-percent sign-up rate and you’ve exceeded your goals. I kind of understand why people do it. If you’re only thinking about the numbers and you’re just trying to juice the stats, then it’s not surprising in the slightest.”

“There’s this logical positivist mindset that the only things that have value are those things that can be measured and can empirically be shown to be true, and while that has its merits it also takes us down a pretty dark place,” said digital product designer Cennydd Bowles, who is researching ethical design. “We start to look at ethics as pure utilitarianism, whatever benefits the most people. Yikes, it has problems.”


The Web sleight of hand trying to charge more, take data, and otherwise deceive
[Yael Grauer/Ars Technica]