With the rise of dark patterns in UX, it’s never been more essential that the products we create are honest and reliable.
“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”
— Edward R. Murrow
Dark UX is when designers create an experience that nudges users in a direction that benefits the interests of the company rather than the user.
Instead of deceiving users with dark patterns, we can build credibility through ethical experiences that put the user’s interests first, even at the expense of short term gain.
Joshua Porter writes in Honest Interfaces, “when part of our product is confusing, misleading, or suspicious, the users’ trust will begin to erode. When even the slightest hint of bad behavior sneaks in, the user has already begun to withdraw from further interaction.”
1. Notify Me
It’s far too common for companies to rely on users registering for a free trial and then forgetting about it, causing them to pay for a subscription.
We should keep our users informed and allow them to cancel their subscription after a free trial if it’s no longer of use to them.
Or better yet, if you’re offering a free trial don’t ask for a credit card at all.
Inform your users every time they are about to be charged.
2. Highlight negative information
Instead of leaving it up to the user to be informed on the possible negative aspects of a decision they’re about to make, it should be crystal clear.
Airbnb informs you that the host you’re booking with doesn’t have a carbon monoxide detector, and you can’t throw parties. They could very easily hide this information, but they emphasize it to make sure you’re making a decision that you’re comfortable with.
3. Default to the option that’s safest for the user
Stop pre-selecting items in forms and making decisions on the user’s behalf.
Too many forms automatically check the little box that opts you into their newsletter. I don’t want to join your damn newsletter!
4. Experience over revenue
Adding a feature that benefits your users, more than your bottom line, might short change you in the short term, but your users will love you for it in the long run.
Lyft added a feature for public transit. It may appear at first glance to work against their business model because if you’re taking the bus, then you’re not taking a Lyft. But Lyft likely added this feature because it makes its users loyal to their platform and likely to use their app for any transportation-related need in the future.
5. Price transparency
What you see is what you pay.
Don’t you hate when you get to the checkout, and magically it’s $15 more than you were expecting? Too many e-commerce experiences advertise one price, and then when you get to checkout after taxes, fees, and shipping, it ends up being significantly more expensive.
6. Stop Spamming
There’s nothing that makes people delete an app faster than spam notifications.
Respect your user’s time by only sending the most relevant notifications when it’s necessary. It’s also essential that you allow users to adjust their notification preferences quickly and easily.
And if the notification isn’t responded to after a certain period, then it’s not doing its job and should be disabled automatically. It’s not doing anyone any good.
7. Privacy transparency
8. Honest offers
If your site is always running sales, then stop pretending like this is a New Year’s sale that ends in two hours.
Be honest with your users about promotions and don’t run the same sales continuously. Fake promotions are a sure way to lose trust.
9. Make it easy as pie to cancel
A roach motel is a dark UX pattern that makes it very easy to get into a situation and then annoyingly difficult to get out of it.
If I’ve subscribed to your product, make it dead simple to eliminate it.
I shouldn’t be required to call a support line, send an email, read your FAQ, or chat with an agent. Just give me a damn button that says “cancel” and let me go on with my life.
10. Ask for permission
Asking for permission before mining or selling data, contacting friends, posting to a user’s profile, or anything of the type is just the right thing to do.
Instead of being sneaky and asking to import contacts that you’ll spam later, tell us what you’ll be using this permission for and be honest.
Don’t take any actions on the user’s behalf in the background without consent.
Try not to be a dick. It’s hard but try to do your best. In the long run, it pays off.
PS. Sometimes (often?) even the companies that practice ethical design, get pulled to the dark side. The need to meet the financial targets are just too strong. For example, Airbnb does present negative information prominently (see #2 above) but recently it started to fail miserably at #5 (price transparency):
What looked like a $526 stay on the search results list actually ended up costing $1.5k, almost 3 times (!!!) as much.