The negative impact of dark patterns on our digital interactions

Dark patterns are interfaces that are intentionally meant to trap users in the digital realm. Their creators hope to dupe people into performing involuntary activities that benefit the owner. Forcing users to sign up for a newsletter, duping them into subscribing to a service, and secretly adding things to their carts are just a few instances.

Easy, pleasant, and smooth interactions are the foundation of positive online experiences. They are created to meet the needs of both users and businesses. Designers rely on a solid understanding of human psychology and cognitive science. This knowledge, on the other hand, can be utilized to control consumers through dark patterns.

The most typical instances are:

1 – Fake urgency

This strategy tries to increase the conversion of baskets into purchases by convincing customers that they must move quickly to prevent missing out on a fantastic deal. This can take a variety of forms:

  • A visual countdown that shows how much time is left until an offer expires. Furthermore, the expiration of the special deal indicated by the countdown on several e-commerce websites is incorrect.
  • Statements concerning the availability of a tourism product that are alarming. Exaggerated, or sometimes plain incorrect, statements like 'Only one room left in this hotel' or 'Caution: demand for this camp site is high during this period' are used to force users' hands.
  • Special offers with a hazy expiration date. Users are frightened of missing out on a "good deal" when they see statements like "Time-limited offer" with no indication of how long it will last.

2 – Bait and switch

This dark pattern entails changing an action in an interface that does not deliver the desired result for the user, such as confirming an order rather than canceling it, or paying an order rather than simply checking a basket.

The concept is to apply psychological conditioning based on a visual habit, such as a certain color or screen position. Some free mobile games contain examples of this dark design.

Users start playing the game by tapping a huge button once it has loaded. If they lose, they can use credit to play again by hitting the same button (they are given free credit every day). If they run out of credit, they'll have to buy more in order to keep playing. The interface designers simply changed the label on the button from 'Replay' to 'Purchase' at this point, directing players who tap again as a reaction to the store. Users have been conditioned to expect a specific outcome from a specific activity. Designers can then simply switch the label to change the result at any time.

3 – Confirmshaming

This method entails infusing negative connotations into the phrasing for acts that the designer does not want to be taken (such as unsubscribing or abandoning a basket). Confirmation messages are written to induce guilt rather than simply utilizing the words 'Confirm' or 'Approve.'

Amazon is one of the most well-known examples, as it allows people to join Amazon Prime many times. 'No thanks, I don't want Unlimited One-Day Delivery,' rather than a simple 'No thanks,' is how the opt-out is phrased.

Other examples of confirmshaming seen on the internet include:

  • 'No thanks, I'm already an expert gardener,' I said when I declined to register in order to obtain a gardening handbook for novices.
  • 'No thanks, saving money isn't my thing,' I said when I declined to give my email address for a discount on a purchase.

The activity is not hijacked in this form of dark pattern; rather, wordings are chosen to elicit a specific response from the user.

Visit to discover more about dark patterns.


A psychological game

Dark patterns can influence anyone, but they are especially effective on people who are suffering from mental illnesses. The best defense is to be able to recognize and avoid them.

The following are the flaws that dark patterns exploit:

  • Guilt, by choosing a particular wording for an action that causes the user to doubt their initial choice (see above example of confirmshaming). This can have a negative effect on self-image and even lead someone to doubt their own personality.
  • Lack of motivation, by designing complex or time-consuming processes that wear the user down and lead them to abandon their action. This can be seen in certain unsubscription processes, for example, where several tedious steps are required.
  • Impulsiveness, by leading the user to think that they must act fast. Dark patterns can put the user under pressure so they act before carefully considering their options (see above example of fake urgency).
  • Anxiety is one of the most frequently exploited weaknesses by dark patterns. This approach involves the use of worrying messages (such as the anxiety-inducing alerts of certain anti-virus programs) or unnecessarily difficult steps (such as requiring users to make a telephone call to unsubscribe).
  • Psychological conditioning, as in the bait-and-switch approach described above. Through a repeated action involving a prominent part of the interface (such as a colorful button), the user makes a mental association between it and an action.

Building efficient and user-friendly interfaces

The same concepts can be utilized to generate positive user involvement through ethical usage of persuasive techniques, whereas dark patterns exploit cognitive sciences to achieve a corporate goal at any cost.

According to Professor Fogg of Stanford University's behavioral paradigm, a behavior is activated when the user has sufficient motivation and ability. To put it another way, people must have both the desire (motivation) and the practical knowledge (capacity) to carry out the action.

  • Motivation can be achieved through attractiveness, benefits or need for a brand or product. For this, often all that is needed is clear, comprehensive and honest communication. For example, many fitness apps now suggest small physical challenges (walk 6000 steps today, do 20 press-ups, etc.) in the form of virtual badges. The challenges increase in difficulty over time. This non-guilt-inducing and gradual approach boosts motivation.
  • Ability can be acquired naturally if the interface is user friendly and instinctive to use. Pleasant design, easy navigation and features designed with user comfort in mind produce a smoother experience and promote perceived well-being. The aim here is to remove any fears related to use itself.


UX is a dynamic discipline centered on users. It can be done in two ways: on the dark side, by exploiting users' anxieties and insecurities for commercial gain, or on the light side, by positively respecting their expectations and wants. Designers of digital systems wield enormous power and, as a result, have enormous responsibility. It is up to them to decide which road they will follow.​​​​​​​

Published on Zdnet