Steering Clear of Deceptive Patterns in UX Design: A Guide to Ethical Practices

As UX designers, our primary mission is to create user-friendly and transparent experiences that cater to our users’ needs and expectations. Yet, there’s a darker side to the world of UX design, one that involves deceptive patterns designed to trick users into taking unintended actions. In this article, we’ll delve into these misleading practices, emphasize the importance of ethical design, and explore strategies to avoid falling into the trap of deceptive patterns.

Understanding Deceptive Patterns

Deceptive patterns, also known as dark patterns, are cleverly crafted UX methods that manipulate users into performing actions they may not willingly choose. These patterns encompass a wide range of tactics, including visual, interactive, audio, or motion elements, often introduced into designs to deceive users.

While the term “dark patterns” is commonly used in the industry, we prefer to refer to them as “deceptive patterns” to steer away from negative connotations. This shift in terminology underscores the focus on the tactics themselves rather than branding them as inherently bad.

Identifying Common Deceptive Patterns

Deceptive patterns were brought to the forefront by UX designer Harry Brignull in 2010, who exposed 11 types of patterns. Here are some of the most common deceptive patterns you may encounter in your role as a UX designer:

1. Forced Continuity: This pattern involves charging users for a membership without adequate warning or notification. Users sign up, thinking they’re getting a free trial with no strings attached, only to discover later that their credit card has been charged without an easy way to cancel.

How to Avoid It:

  • Notify users before their free trial ends and before they are charged.
  • Make the cancellation process straightforward and easily accessible.
  • Provide a clear link to guide users through the cancellation process.
  • Ensure that visual elements like buttons are labeled unambiguously.

2. Sneak into Basket: In this pattern, users have to remove an item from their cart if they don’t wish to purchase it, adding an extra step that can be easily overlooked.

How to Avoid It:

  • Ensure that no items are pre-selected to be added to the user’s cart.
  • Eliminate surprises by making it clear what users are about to purchase.

3. Hidden Costs: Hidden costs involve undisclosed charges in the user’s cart that are only revealed at the final checkout stage. These surprise expenses can frustrate users and deter them from completing their purchase.

How to Avoid It:

  • Provide all pricing-related information upfront.
  • Offer a calculator during shopping to help users calculate additional costs, such as shipping and taxes, before checkout.

4. Confirmshaming: Confirmshaming manipulates users by making them feel guilty when opting out of something.

How to Avoid It:

  • Be mindful of the language used on buttons and confirmation screens to avoid manipulating users’ emotions.

5. Urgency: This pattern creates a false sense of urgency, pressuring users to make immediate decisions, often through limited-time offers.

How to Avoid It:

  • Use urgency sparingly and avoid adding excessive pressure on users to commit quickly.

6. Scarcity: Scarcity tactics highlight the limited availability of a product, urging users to make a purchase before it’s too late.

How to Avoid It:

  • Consider whether informing users about product availability or creating a sense of urgency is your goal, ensuring transparency in your designs.

Steering Clear of Deceptive Patterns

In your role as a UX designer, the first step to preventing deceptive patterns is awareness. Recognize these patterns and their potential harm. By staying vigilant and making ethical choices in your designs, you can help build trust with your users and foster a positive user experience.

Remember, deceptive patterns are unethical and should be avoided at all costs. Being honest and transparent in your designs not only benefits your users but also strengthens your brand’s integrity and trustworthiness. In the end, ethical design practices serve both users and businesses, ensuring a win-win outcome for all parties involved.


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