How to approach Dark Patterns

Mishi Sarda
Product Design Team
Read Time
7 min read
Published On
August 4, 2022

All of us have a love-hate relationship with the internet but whether we agree or not, we spend countless hours on it. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on the other side designing and creating things people are so preoccupied with?

The power of design shows that someone’s choices do not always reflect their personal preferences. Certain design practices can manipulate users into keeping the data flowing by buying or signing up for something to benefit the business. This manipulation is the result of ‘Dark Patterns’. But dark patterns can also be unintentional. Some businesses implement dark patterns by mistake or misadventure.

Why do we need to know more about Dark Patterns?

Studies show that many people are moderately aware of the existence of deceptive strategies, but unaware of the frequency and the scale of it. While some believe business owners are mostly at fault, others think that they are also partly responsible for their own fate and should view online content critically.

In this digital era, despite being aware of persuasive and manipulative techniques, many people might ignore them if they benefit from the service in other valuable ways. Some of the factors are:

  • People are unaware of how their private data is being used
  • People are willing to share such data when the expected rewards outweigh the perceived risk
  • People feel resigned to the situation and consider pervasive monitoring as inescapable.

This blog post will help you understand and spot Dark Patterns, know about its impact on the future and give you the strategies and recommendations as corporations, designers and users on how to avoid them.

What are Dark Patterns?

The term ‘Dark Patterns’ was first introduced in 2010 by Harry Brignull, a UX specialist and thought leader. He created a website called which later changed to, dedicated to providing examples of dark patterns.

Dark Patterns are interface design choices that are created to influence users into making decisions that they might not make if they were fully informed.

How can someone spot Dark Patterns?

A team at Purdue University expanded work on Brignull’s work. This is another approach that encompasses the original 12 categories of dark Patterns listed by Brignull and is structured around strategies and potential designer motivations behind using these patterns in design.

In this article, you will see some of the examples of the strategies of Dark Patterns:

1. Nagging

Have you ever noticed pop-ups where you are pressured to turn on notifications with options like “not now” and “ok” with no option that says “no”? This takes away the user’s control while continuing to bother them. This is a classic example of Nagging.

Company is Nagging for notifications
(Figure 1: Company is Nagging for notifications)

Nagging behaviors may include repeated intrusion during normal interaction like pop-ups that obscure the interface, audio notices that act as a distraction, or other actions that redirect the focus. This is where the user’s desired task is interrupted by other tasks not directly related to the one they are focusing on.

2. Obstruction

Was there a time when you were tricked into doing things like buying or signing up for a premium subscription while surfing the internet but when you tried to cancel the service or close the account, the process gets difficult or impossible to resolve?

Many times, our interactions on the internet are more difficult than they need to be and created with the intent of dissuading certain actions. Obstruction often acts as a major barrier to a particular task that the user may want to accomplish.

Hard to Cancel Subscription
(Figure 2: Hard to Cancel Subscription)

The example above shows that in order to find out how to cancel an account, a user must go to the FAQ only to find out that the cancellation requires calling the company by phone. They have deliberately made it hard for the user to cancel the subscription here.

3. Sneaking

As the name suggests, this strategy is used to hide, disguise, or delay the information that is relevant to the user. Sneaking may occur in the form of additional undisclosed costs or undesired effects from an action.

Not informing the customer when their trial has ended and switching to the paid version, late disclosure of certain costs while buying something, sneaking additional items to the customer’s shopping cart, manipulating customers to think they are doing one thing but ends up doing something completely different are all examples of Sneaking.

Email Spam
(Figure 3: Email Spam)

4. Interface Interference

Ever wondered about how colors, style, hierarchy, trick questions or similar elements can evoke emotions and persuade you into a particular action?

Manipulating user interfaces has become more common in todays’ world. This process privileges certain actions over others, thereby confusing the users.

Social Media Platform’s Ghost Stories
(Figure 4: Social Media Platform’s Ghost Stories)

This example shows how the company includes “ghost stories” of user’s friends that haven’t posted a story in a while when there are no stories available. When the user clicks on it, it tells them that their friend hasn’t posted in a while.

5. Forced Action

We’ve all shared more information about ourselves on the internet than we really intended to. This action may manifest as a required step to complete a process or something that we will greatly benefit from.

Impossible levels in a Mobile Game
(Figure 5: Impossible levels in a Mobile Game)

Forced Action exists in a lot of different kinds of interfaces. One such example is this game. The game occasionally gives players levels that are impossible to complete in order to force them to buy power ups or extra lives. The difficulty level slowly decreases in order to retail playability if the player doesn’t purchase anything.

Implications of Dark Patterns and Future Work

Dark Patterns are changing how the law understands technology. Design works with technology to make technology understandable and easier to all. With some responsible and ethical movements in technology and awareness in the lawmakers, a bigger movement around design can be created to have a positive impact on future.

How to avoid Dark Patterns?

As an experienced team of designers and engineers at a UX Design and Software Development Agency, our goal is to give you more insights on how it’s important to be concerned about the long-term impact of applying Dark Patterns on the users and when it stars to become a liability.

1. Recommendations for Corporations to avoid Dark Patterns

As quoted by Sophocles “Profit is sweet, even if it comes from deception”.

Even though using Dark Patterns can provide short term benefits to the company, it isn’t uncommon that Dark Patterns may have a negative business impact. Once the users find out that a business tried to trick them, they may distrust and get frustrated only to abandon the products offered.

So, what can you do to generate more profit while being transparent with your users?

Businesses can take qualitative measures to improve the user experience and conversion rates. It’s important to disclose the information collected, its business purpose and if there are any third parties the information is getting shared with.

2. Recommendations for Designers to avoid Dark Patterns

Dark Patterns are not only unethical but also reflect badly on the profession. As quoted by Gary Bunker (UX Specialist), “A moral compass is a necessary tool in all sectors of the industry, especially the practice of user experience”.

Here’s a sneak peek into the steps that can be taken to push back against the pressure to deploy dark patterns:

  • Do no harm to the users
  • Keep the users informed
  • Try to incorporate ethics into your company’s design process
  • Empathize with the users and the people affected by the dark patterns

3. Recommendations for Users to avoid Dark Patterns

Users can make or break the company, but their power dynamics is distributed in this case. It is important to understand that Dark Patterns not only break trust and violet privacy, but they can also cost people money through deceptive techniques. In the recent years, many people have become more aware and critical when interacting with interfaces.

As an internet user many of you might believe that there is no way to avoid dark patterns completely, there are certain ways that can help you protect yourself:

  • Viewing online content critically
  • Share your data carefully
  • Be more careful with your information when subscribing
  • Pay attention to your screen time while using an app. If it’s high, and not intentional, you’re likely falling prey to some pattern that’s keeping you there.
  • Most importantly, use tools like AdNauseam which unlike the conventional ad-blocking software, along with removing the ads also automatically clicks on them to confuse the companies with false signals.

Closing thoughts

We all use a variety of apps in our day-to-day, at work and at home. Hope this helps you recognize the Dark Patterns and get equipped to steer clear of such manipulations.

Think about how great it would be if the technology that we rely on would work for people rather than against them. In this day and age, it’s not just technology that has the potential to create harm, but the impact of what designers can do has never been greater.

To sum it up, if you are someone who’s a part of creating experiences, just keep practicing good design! 😄

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