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BLOGInsight: Dark Patterns

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, Insight, Service, TrustTagged as: , , , ,

Do dark patterns build your business… or lose trust? If you haven’t heard of dark patterns, it is a term first coined by Harry Brignull, a UX specialist, back in 2010, that describes tricks that websites and apps use to get you to do things that you didn’t intend to do. This can range from signing up for a newsletter, purchasing a product, or NOT cancelling a subscription.

Insight: Dark Patterns

Dark patterns rely on a strong understanding of human psychology and online behavior to shuttle people along a path, usually with an unexpected outcome.

Two examples come to mind. When one registers a domain name, there is usually a price attached to it, usually about $15. But on the way to the checkout page, there is an option where you can choose to have your registration be private — which most people check. Then on the checkout page itself, there is the domain that you were to purchase, but for two years, not one, and with the privacy service added — for both years. The total price might now be as much as four times the initial quoted amount. Even worse, some domain registrars also use dark patterns to add related domains (e.g. .org. net. etc.), email, and web hosting services.

Another example comes from and the process they use to dissuade users from unsubscribing from their Prime service. At the time of this writing time, there are no fewer than five screens with carrot-and-stick messaging warning you not to unsubscribe, all embedded in an overly slick interface designed to keep you subscribed.

So why do sites use dark patterns? Here’s the argument:

  • We want to increase sales and subscriptions.
  • We want to reduce attrition and churn.
  • We want to capture more about our prospects and clients in our database. (After all, our online “service” is free…)
  • We are just providing the consumer all of the information they need to make their decision. It’s up to them to read all of the details.

Sadly, except for the last item, which is actually a post facto rationalization, none of these have the user’s interests at heart. And while dark patterns will likely achieve their business objectives, the cost is a steep one: users feel frustrated, or uncertain, or scared, and later when they realize they’ve been had, they feel cheated.

And they will share their experiences online. There are over 500K search results for Dark Patterns on Google, and an untold number of discussions on the topic in social media. If building your business is based on trust, then using Dark Patterns is not the way to go.


Look at each of the digital touchpoints that your prospects and clients must use: have you unwittingly implemented Dark Patterns? If so, improve your trust by shining a bright light in this area: remove the dark patterns and be more transparent in your digital experiences.

Related post: Trust Killers, Pricing Strategy

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