Dark Design Patterns. You are undoubtedly familiar with the nuisance they cause, even if you're not also familiar with the term by which they are known. No, this is not a design topic that has any relevance to the colour wheel. Well, not in the way you'd think.
When a company (either accidentally or deliberately) makes a certain action very difficult to accomplish (one that has a negative effect on the company), chances are it falls under the category of Dark Patterns. Have you ever tried to Unsubscribe from something but found it incredibly difficult to find the Unsubscribe button? Dark Pattern. Have you ever tried to contact a company through their website but every links that includes the word "contact" points to something or seemingly anything but a form of contact? Dark Pattern. Only have the option to "Learn More" or "Continue", where the option to decline is hidden under Learn More? Dark Pattern.
Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn't mean to.
Dark Patterns are at their core a hack of our society's social norms. If a company can make it more difficult to unsubscribe, they can increase their subscriber retention. They can hide under the false curtain of legitimacy by being able to say that users can unsubscribe on their website, and while technically and theoretically that may be true, the fact that they've hidden away that feature makes it incredibly unlikely. It exists, but that company has an unspoken intent to hide it from you.
Hall of Shame
We live in a society with an unprecedented number of cyber-security threats, customer data thefts, and outright misuse of personal information shared (whether intentionally or accidentally) online. We firmly believe that companies actively communicate what their values are on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis. What are the unspoken messages your company is communicating to potentical clients?
A company that wants to claim being ethical in their practices cannot just say the words, they need to implement them too. If your company cannot compete in the marketplace without resorting to dirty tactics to keep your customers from leaving, then your company runs the risk of being outed and publically shamed. It is no longer an option for top-level management to believe in business ethics. If there are no systems that flag and identify these problems within your company, you are just as guilty.
It is very depressing to think that we live in a society today where the companies that follow the rules and set the highest standards of ethics are incredibly few, and the companies who are motivated by greed alone with no regard for the negative effect they cause on their local, regional and global economies are immeasurably prominent.
This Article in Context
We love it when we find an app or business tool that is so well designed that we can't help but tell all of our clients and customers about it, and brag about it every chance we get. Canva is one of those apps. Canva is SAAS (Software as a Service) web application that is essentially a slim version of Photoshop, but designed for extreme ease of use, so that almost anyone can create great visual content for print or social media using the app. You can create a stunning-looking social media graphic in so little time it actually made me sad that such great artwork can take such little time to make (mainly because I am a Web Developer and Graphic Designer, and Canva makes it so easy to create great graphics that it kind of detracted from my own perceived value proposition). [You'll notice that I haven't linked to Canva. Usually I link to websites when I mention them, but recently I thought it best not to make customer acquisition easier for unprofessional companies, hence the absense of a link in this case.]
For a time I thought there was no wrong Canva could do to shake my new-found loyalty.
But even that came to an end.
Everyone has done it at one point in time or another - and if you say you haven't, no one would believe you. You sign up for a "free trial" and start using a new app or tool you think might actually be a game changer for your business. After a while, you forget that you had signed up for the trial, and instead of asking you if you want to continue using the application (even though you and I - AND THEY - know you only used the app for ten minutes the first day you found it and have never since) the app developer charges you a subscription fee. Buried in the fine print - or more recently in many cases right in plain sight - is the condition that you agree to subscribe if you fail to cancel before the end of the trial.
You would never expect a car dealership to automatically lock you into a car purchase after only completing a test drive. But such is not the case in the online world apparently. It would seem that the logical solution (of having regulations that require customers be given both automatic and manual trial options) is not even being advocated for. What a disgusting way to do business. No one is doubting the value of the service being offered. That part is rarely debated. What disgusts us is the way that companies actively rely on customers to give up on trying to reclaim their own money in order for the company to squeeze out a few extra points into their profit margins.
BUT I NEVER USED YOUR APP! Think that line ever works? Think again. Your best (and seemingly only) protection from the inevitability of finding yourself in this situation is to pay with a credit card. If given the option, don't pay using anything else. Your Credit Card company understands that if the company that charged you failed to provide the service for which they have charged, you should reasonably and rightfully refunded.
Sometimes public shame is also enough to prompt terrible companies into actions that any ethical company would have taken by default. A perfect example of this is in many of the stories covered by CTV Toronto's Consumer Alert (with Pat Foran). We must not be the only ones that share a pessimistic view of companies featured in stories that lept into action to rectify a customer's complaints simply and only because inaction would result in public shaming on a Consumer Alert broadcast. If your company is featured of Consumer Alert, know this: We see you. We see your company for what it really is.
You won't see any websites designed by our agency replicating any of these egregious UX design hacks, not only because we don't allow that kind of practice, but also because the businesses and organizations we deal with wouldn't want them anyway. Our clients have faith and trust in our agency and the expectation that we will never misrepresent their brand or defame the reputation they hope to build upon by enlisting our company's web design services. You'd think that would be the defacto standard for achieving business success by now. Sadly it is not.
One Final Thought
If a web designer or agency boasts about incorporating a "feature" that promotes what sounds to be a dark pattern in your own website project, that would be a great time to re-evaluate whether or not that partnership is the right fit for your business. There is a fine line between design that respectfully guides web users through your marketing funnel, and design that intends by it's very nature to deceive, distort, or misrepresent how your company does business. You will always gain more business from conducting a positive and open interaction with your customers than from deceiving, tricking, or bamboozling them.