For most, the difference between good and bad web design is whether or not a site is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use.
That view ignores the darker side of design.
Just as there are unethical “black hat” tactics for making a site appear in search engine results, web designers have come up with practices designed to trick people into signing up for services and buying products that, under other circumstances, they wouldn’t.
Dark Patterns is a site dedicated to revealing these tricks and the sites that use them. Harry Brignull, one of the site’s creators, has put together a presentation detailing some of their sketchiest tactics. Not all the sites in this presentation still have their UI’s organised this way — Brignull’s data covers years — but at one time, they all did.
Brignull starts by pointing out that many of these tricks come from a lesson learned via studies of organ donor programs around the world.
In countries where you have to sign up to be in the national organ donor programs, the percentages that opt-in are rather low. In countries where you are signed up by default, almost no one opts-out. Lesson learned: make it as easy as possible to sign up, because once you have them they probably won't leave.
This lesson applies to all kinds of businesses. LA Fitness only requires a few clicks to sign up for a membership while cancelling involves sending a handwritten note via the mail.
Same thing with Orbitz: Buying a ticket only takes minutes, while cancelling a flight can take up to two days in some cases.
It even comes up on charity websites. Oxfam, a Third World poverty relief organisation, has its donation sign-up set to recur monthly by default.
By doing so, Oxfam hopes that people won't notice that they've signed up to pay more than once and won't bother to opt-out once they do.
While setting a toggle to 'monthly' is one thing, but it's not as ethically questionable as an online retailer adding an additional product to your cart without your permission.
Comet, the U.K. retailer, added a $US40 case to Brignull's order when he was looking at an iPad in the hopes that he would think, 'Well, maybe I need this.'
Of course, those two make opting out quite easy if you're paying attention to the forms. Ryanair, the Irish airline, does something even more tricky.
Within that section, there's the option to buy travel insurance. Notice that there isn't a Yes/No option, but a drop-down menu for choosing country of residence.
If you don't choose a country (which would bring you to the screen where you purchase insurance) or opt-out, Ryanair gives an error message that highlights that you should pick a country -- making you more likely to buy the insurance.
Despite the murky ethics of making it easy to opt-in but hard to opt-out, the tactic is used by a huge number of sites online.
That's not the only way websites are fooling users. Some are trying to pass off knock-offs as iPhones and other gadgets...
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