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Luke…I am Your Unworthy Father

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Stri...

“Luke…I am your father.  Come to the dark side; we have higher sales figures.”  Okay, Darth Vader didn’t say that, but in the advertising world there will always be a good side and a bad side.  When it comes to web design for advertising purposes the bad side has a specific name – the “dark patterns” side.

Dark patterns are those aspects of a user interface on a website (the part of the website that the user interacts with by being able to manipulate it) that use deceptive text or functionality to get the user to do what the company wants but still within legal bounds.  This practice usually fails to provide the clear and upfront information a consumer would need in order to make a completely informed purchase decision.  Dark patterns manifest in the form of hidden recurring charges or miscellaneous fees; buried terms and conditions that affect how the user will be charged etc.

Below you will find a description of the current varieties of dark patterns.  It is crucial for a web designer to know the dark side so as to avoid joining it by mistake or to simply be called out on a practice they thought was ok.  As one author states “If you want consumers to pay attention, you had better be truthful.”  These days, transparency is a must if a company wants to be respected by its consumers.  Dishonest practices in any form will at some point in time result in a reduction of credibility, loyalty, equity, sales and any other success that has been realized by the company.

Bait and Switch

The user intends to do one thing but the website changes things up on them, resulting in an undesirable and unintended result.  The most common dark pattern.  Nearly all other dark patterns use this trick in one form or another.

Disguised Ads

These are advertisements that are disguised to look like other content of the site or navigation features in order to trick you into clicking on them.

Faraway Bill

Today, we can receive our bills online or offline (snail mail).  Those bills received by regular mail provide a complete breakdown of charges.  Online bills regularly lack the detailed breakdown.  Many companies who provide online bills in this form say the lack of breakdown is for security reasons.  The customer would need to log in if they want to see the breakdown.  Many people don’t want to take the time to log in and are thus unaware of any additional charges they are incurring.

Forced Continuity

The user signs up for a free trial offer and are required to enter their credit card information.  When the free trial ends, the customer is automatically billed and doesn’t receive any sort of reminder that their trial is ending so they can decide if they want to continue and authorize the recurring charge.

Forced Disclosure

In return for a free for near free offer, the consumer is required to disclose personal information or those of their friends which is often unnecessary.

Friend Spam

A website asks for access to your Twitter, Facebook or email account and ends up sending spam advertisements to your friends as if you had sent it.

Hidden Costs

Undisclosed charges that are found on the last step of the checkout process online.

Misdirection

This tactic makes it seem as if the consumer cannot accomplish what they want until they do what the company wants of them where what the company wants from them is not truly required to proceed (registration, payment, disclosure etc.).

Price Comparison Prevention

Hiding or otherwise making it hard to find pricing in order to keep the consumer from comparing prices.

Privacy Zuckering

Using confusing jargon and site features in order to deliberately cause users to share more information about themselves than they would normally want to.

Roach Motel

The practice of making it easy to get into something like an online subscription but difficult to get out of it.  Often by hiding the functionality to get out.

Road Block

The act of purposefully impeding the user’s ability to perform an action such as placing a pop-up ad over a search feature.

Sneak into Basket

The system sneaks an additional item into the consumers shopping cart by using an “opt-out” button on a previous page that the consumer didn’t know they had to click.

Trick Questions

The consumer is required to answer a cleverly crafted question that when read quickly says one thing but upon reading more carefully asks something different.

Yes, none of these practices are illegal, yet they will assuredly confuse, discourage or anger potentially loyal customers.  Come to the good side, we have what you’re looking for, but we got it honestly.

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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in New Media

 

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