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Dark Patterns

Defining Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are deceptive UX/UI (User Experience/User Interface) designs used on websites and apps, aimed at tricking users into doing things they might not otherwise do. These can include making a purchase, signing up for recurring subscriptions, or giving away personal data. They are called 'dark' because they use psychological tricks to manipulate users, often leading to unintended consequences for the person navigating the site or app.

The Origins of Dark Patterns

The term "dark patterns" was coined by UX specialist Harry Brignull in 2010. It emerged as a critique of manipulative design practices that were becoming increasingly common with the growth of e-commerce and digital marketing. As companies sought more aggressive ways to capture consumer attention and drive revenue, these ethically questionable practices started gaining prominence, leading to the need for a term to describe them.

Practical Application of Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are often seen in e-commerce and digital marketing strategies. Examples include 'sneak into basket', where additional items are added to a user's cart without their knowledge; 'hidden costs', where fees are concealed until the last step of a transaction; and 'roach motel', where signing up for a service is easy but unsubscribing is difficult. While effective in the short term for driving certain consumer actions, they can harm consumer trust and loyalty.

The Controversy Around Dark Patterns

The primary controversy around dark patterns lies in their ethical implications. While they can lead to increased conversions, sign-ups, or sales, they often do so at the cost of user trust and satisfaction. Long-term, the use of dark patterns can damage a company's reputation and lead to legal challenges, especially with growing awareness and regulation around transparent and fair digital practices.


Consumers can recognize dark patterns by being vigilant about unexpected changes in their shopping carts, reading the fine print, and being cautious of manipulative language or misleading design elements.

While not all dark patterns are illegal, they can be considered unethical. Certain types, like hidden costs, can violate consumer protection laws, and there is growing legal scrutiny around these practices.

Yes, businesses can benefit from avoiding dark patterns by building trust with their customers, improving brand reputation, and ensuring compliance with consumer protection laws.


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