UX Design

Dark UX Patterns: What is Dark UX?

The core notion of UX design is delivering pleasant and seamless experiences. 
But, sometimes, things can get dark and somewhat scary, and UX design is no exception. 

Today, we’ll explain deceptive dark UX patterns and practices applied to trick users. We will also teach you how to recognize these dark patterns and, hopefully, become immune to them!

A dark color that slides across hand

Definitions of dark UX and dark UX patterns

Dark UX is a design meant to mislead users and make them do something that wasn’t their original intent.

In other words, dark patterns are immoral shortcuts to meeting business objectives at the expense of unprepared users. They show a lack of compassion (and respect!) with users while reaching your business objectives. 

Harry Brignull coined the term “dark patterns” in 2010. He created darkpatterns.org, which showcases examples of deceitful user interfaces.

The difference between bad UX and dark UX

Before we go through some of the most popular and recognizable dark patterns, it’s essential to distinguish dark UX from bad UX. 

Bad design is a poorly designed website or a product that doesn’t meet users’ needs unintentionally. Dark UX is a dishonest design. 

It’s crucial to know that dark UX patterns don’t result from poor design. They exist with a mission to persuade users into actions instead of satisfying their needs.
Moreover, customers usually don’t notice a negative user experience because of a smooth flow. 

Examples of dark UX patterns

Let’s dive into some of the most common dark patterns on the Internet:

Hidden costs

Unfortunately, it almost becomes a mission to buy something online without this dark UX pattern.

Hidden costs appear at the final point – the checkout. Before entering your card data, you’ll find extra fees applied, such as shipping or packaging insurance. Many users don’t notice it. Others are already deep in the idea of buying that product, so they bite their tongue and complete the order.

Image contain hidden cost ux dark pattern

An example of a hidden fee being added right before payment occurs.


Confirmshaming is a pattern which guilt-trips users into doing something.
The wording evokes shame in the users and forces them into compliance.

You can recognize these dark UX patterns when unsubscribing from a newsletter, such as we’re sad to see you go. Some are even more hardcore – they include sorry team members or even puppies. Others can look like, “No, I don’t want to become an expert in *add area of interest*.”

An example of a modal with confirm-shaming content

A hardcore example of confirmshaming.

Forced Continuity

Have you ever signed up for a 7-day free trial, and after these seven days passed, you found your credit card billed without warning or confirmation?

That is a Forced Continuity. These dark patterns turn to be even worse when canceling this silent subscription becomes nearly impossible.

Payment process that has "small printed" where can you find terms

Payment terms are hidden in the footer, and the user is tricked into adding the CC details with the fact they won’t be charged yet. They will however be charged without additional notice after 7 days.

Secret Additions

These dark UX patterns add things into users’ baskets during the checkout without initial compliance, usually via preselected checkboxes. It can include protection packages, warranty, eco-friendly boxes (more expensive than the regular ones), usually-bought-together items…

Luckily, this dark pattern is now illegal in the UK and some other EU countries. Yet, many businesses still use this cheap tactic to bump up the final price.

Image contain a shopping cart

Book protectors were silently added to the cart. There is an option to remove them, but users might easily miss it.

Privacy Zuckering

Privacy Zuckering also falls into the dark UX patterns category. It is named after Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his user-privacy-related issues. It tricks you into sharing more personal information than you intended. 

Now comes the part where we encourage you to start carefully reading T&Cs because the devil is in the details. That small print you overlook often has hidden permission for data brokers to sell your data to anyone. 

Such data can contain information about your sexual preferences, physical or mental health, with results that might not always be in your favor. There is a whole industry of data brokerage which is still not well regulated, and it is burdensome to opt out of it.

Image contain example of privacy policy

The user is forced to agree with the Terms, and the really bad stuff is hidden within pages and pages of text.

Contact theft

These dark UX patterns ask for your email or social media permissions and then spam all your contacts with a message that appears to come from you.

One of the most famous examples of using a contact theft pattern is LinkedIn. In 2015, LinkedIn imported their users’ contact lists and invited them to join their network pretending to be users. In reality, users didn’t know anything about it. 

California Law declared LinkedIn’s practice illegal. Also, they paid a fine of 13 million dollars.
The users who were victims of LinkedIn’s “add connection” action got a payout of around $10.

Image contain a question and answers in a form of checkboxes

The user gave access to contacts and is now prompted to invite them to the app. The skip button seems disabled and deselecting contacts looks painful and time-consuming.

Disguised ads

Disguised ads are adverts masked as navigation buttons or another type of content that lead to an ad. Examples of these dark UX patterns look like a download button that tricks users into clicking on the ads rather than downloading the item. 

This dishonest design intentionally looks like a part of the website, so it’s easier to fool the user into clicking on the ad. Then, the users stray onto the advertiser’s website, which wasn’t their first intent.

Image contain two pictures of dogs

An advertisement by a dog food brand looks the same as the profile card of a potential pet available for adoption.

Reasons for using dark UX patterns

It’s easy to understand why someone would use dark UX: they want to direct users to specific actions to increase sales, gather data or expand their email lists.

While these are valid reasons, deploying dark UX to achieve objectives instead of focusing on user-centered design and tailoring a beneficial experience for the user can result in
severe and long-term damage.

Your brand will eventually lose all the trust of your users, and you’ll destroy its reputation (and we all know how hard it is to build). Prioritizing quick wins via cheap tactics also can’t last forever. Sooner or later, your customers will realize it and leave for good. 

Nowadays, customers’ awareness of these dishonest tactics is rising. Additionally, there are more and more laws regulating these topics. So, eventually, the brands that still deploy dark patterns will be dismissed as unethical and lose their customers to brands who are sincere and guide the user from point A to point B without tricks.

Final judgment: user‑centered design always wins

Today, when there is an ever-increasing number of brands and competition, it’s crucial more than ever to resort to delivering user-centered solutions via a good UX. 

If you need proof, we have it. During the last ten years, design-driven companies outperformed the stock market by a whopping 228%. 

Whether you’re a UX designer or a business owner (or both), you have to deliver seamless, honest experiences for your users. You have to make it easy for your users to act as they intended initially. When doing so, you will reap only positive impressions and associations with your brand. You’ll instill trust within your customers and raise the likelihood of them returning in the future. 

Even though dark UX patterns seem like a quick fix that might not hurt anyone, focusing on the user-focused design will turn out more sustainable, valuable, and profitable than dark UX could ever be. 

Stay in the light, our friends! 🤗

Have you ever experienced any of these or some other dark UX patterns? 
We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Feel free to fill out our contact form or shoot us a message in our Instagram DMs!
For more valuable design-related content, make sure to visit our blog; we’re sure you’ll find something for yourself.

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