Countless popular websites and apps, from retailers and travel services to social media companies, use so-called “dark stereotypes” or gentle coercive design tactics that Critics say is used to manipulate people’s digital behavior.
The term “dark pattern” was coined by Harry Brignull, a UK-based user experience expert and researcher of human-computer interaction. Brignull began to notice that when he reported to one of his clients that most of his test subjects felt cheated by some aspect of their website or app design, the client Item seems to be very welcome feedback.
“That’s always intrigued me as a researcher, because usually the name of the game is to find vulnerabilities and fix them,” Brignull told CNN Business. “Now we’re finding the ‘flaws’ that customers seem to like and want to keep.”
To put it in Silicon Valley terms, he realized it was a feature, not a bug.
These design tactics have come under scrutiny in recent months, including lawsuits against tech companies and proposed legislation to protect consumers. But as some take a closer look at the approach, the problem may be complicated by how interwoven dark patterns have become when creating digital services and even some confusion. around the definition of the term.
“Everybody has a different definition,” says Nir Eyal, a behavior designer and author of the widely shared Silicon Valley book, “Hooked: How to Build Visual Products become a habit.” Eyal said he tries to help companies build healthy habits in users’ lives, but his focus is on doing so through “convincing design”.
“A dark pattern that uses coercion,” says Eyal. “Coercion is getting you to do things you later regret. … Persuasion is getting people to do things they want to do, things they don’t regret.” Some coercion and persuasion tactics can be similar, he says, but he says it’s important to see what the design pattern is trying to get you to do.
The use of “trace” or psychology that encourages people to continue using the product on a daily basis to create a habit of using the product, seems like a distraction mechanism on a social media app or a helpful reminder to continue learning another language through Duolingo, says Eyal.
The growing push to remove dark patterns
So far this year, there have been numerous lawsuits against tech companies known for their alleged use of dark models to mislead users.
Eyal says he thinks there should be regulation of dark models, but he says there are other ways to get companies to stop the behavior, including simply calling attention. to it. He cites for example, Brignull’s website as a historical archive of various dark patterns throughout the years – many of which went down after being called out.
“When companies are shamed and publicly criticized for using these techniques, they almost always dismiss that dark model,” he said. For example, he said it used to be common for companies to buy a flight online using “basket techniques” to add flight insurance and other fees that customers wouldn’t notice until after they bought a flight. pay.
“When people know that this is happening, not only do they not want to do business with those companies, but they tell all their friends not to do business with those companies,” Eyal said. “So what you see is when companies are embarrassed when they use these, these dark stereotypes, they almost always stop.”
For his part, Brignull said he has spent time testifying as an expert witness in several class-action lawsuits involving dark patterns in the UK. “Scams don’t work when the victim knows what the scammer is trying to do,” says Brignull. “If they knew what a scam was, they wouldn’t have gotten their hands on it – and that’s why I’d love to expose these things and show them to other consumers.”