Dark schemes” in interfaces force us to spend more and act to our detriment.One of the functions of website and app design is to tell the user how to do what he needs. The red circle signals that it is time to read the message, the cross – you can close the window or document. If a person cannot quickly figure out how a service works, they will most likely stop using it. Therefore, designers try to make the interface as simple and understandable as possible.
Take two language learning apps, for example. The first allows you to log in using your Google or Facebook accounts, and after a couple of basic questions, the lesson starts immediately. The second requires you to go through a few steps to create an account, asks you to choose a training plan and enter your payment information even before you try something. Naturally, the former will be much more popular.
Every new click hides a chance that the user will be disappointed and leave, so the creators of sites and applications try to predict and manage our micro-solutions.
How dark schemes work
Ideally, designers should try to make the user experience as pleasant as possible. But sometimes we stumble upon something that is clearly not working in our favor. For example, we notice that subscribing to a service is much easier than unsubscribing from it.
For such techniques, UX design expert Harry Brignall coined the concept of “dark circuits.” With their help, interfaces subtly force the user to do something that he did not intend, or interfere with behavior that is not beneficial to the company.
Let’s say you want to unsubscribe from the mailing list. After scrolling to the end of the letter and with some effort, you find the ” Unsubscribe ” button . It is small, pale and hidden at the very bottom, under a few paragraphs of text. This is a clear sign that the company is putting obstacles in your path to unsubscribing. But the button offering to buy something at a discount is usually large, bright and located at the very top.
Example from the mailing list. Click to enlarge and try to find a link where you can unsubscribe
Or another example. Signing up for a monthly subscription to most services is effortless, which cannot be said about canceling it. Sometimes the customer retention method is unobtrusive: a bright button that says “No, I want to stay” and less prominent with the words “Yes, I really want to cancel my subscription.”
An example of an unsubscribe page
It would seem that this is a trifle. Most users will guess where to click. But even if only a few people are inattentive and accidentally renew their subscriptions, the company will make money.
UX design expert.
Many companies make it difficult for customers to leave. Over time, they will still leave, but if they delay an additional 10 or 20 percent of the time, their accounts will live a little longer. When there are hundreds or thousands of such clients, the end result is a huge amount of money, and this is from those who are going to refuse services anyway.
In other situations, the obstacles to an action that is unfavorable for the company are more serious. For example, if you want to delete your Amazon account , you cannot do it yourself – you have to contact the company and ask its employees about it. And on the page with instructions for removal, you will seelist reasons to abandon your idea.
If you still intend to act, you will need to fill out a special form. After that, you will be sent an email explaining again why you should not delete your account. If you are absolutely sure of your decision, you can follow the link at the end of this longest letter. It will take you to a page where you will need to send another request to the Amazon staff, confirming that you really want to delete your account with all your heart.
Brignall calls such schemes a mousetrap: getting inside is easy, but getting out is much more difficult. They are not always implemented on purpose. Simply making it easier for the user to sign up is usually a lot of effort, while the process of closing accounts is not on the developer’s list of priorities .
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But in cases like Amazon, front-end designers are deliberately trying to complicate the failure mechanism, because from the company’s point of view, it shouldn’t be easy. Of course, we can say that Amazon does not want users to delete their accounts inadvertently, and therefore complicates the process, that is, it cares about people. But it is also beneficial for the company itself when customers are so tired of attempts to delete that they leave an account.
Brignall revealed many more typessimilar “dark schemes”. For example, “Sneak into the basket,” where a store slips something into your order while you are shopping for another item. This may be a warranty or service plan you don’t need and need to be manually removed from your shopping list.
Also, you have probably come across the “Guilt Consent” scheme, when they try to impose unpleasant feelings on you so that you agree to some option or not unsubscribe from the mailing list. For example, they show a picture with a sad puppy or a full-screen banner offering to subscribe to a newsletter, which has only two options: “OK” and “No, I hate reading interesting stories .”
Example of a Guilt Consent Scheme
What users should do
The bad news is that in companies, entire teams are busy inventing and testing such techniques, and you have to rely only on yourself.
The good news is that you can take on a powerful tool – knowledge. Knowing about cognitive biases and the tricks that services use to manipulate your behavior will make it easier to resist.
If you spot a “dark pattern”, please share it publicly. Making the unsubscribe process more complicated may help the company earn extra money, but if it is convicted of misleading customers, it will most likely try to change the design.
Don’t complain by e-mail, you will simply be sent away – and no one will see it. And if you complain publicly, you are more likely to get a quick and effective response.
Not all dark schemes are intentionally embedded in websites. Sometimes a designer doesn’t even realize that his interface is manipulating the user, and many just use what works. And not every attempt to influence our behavior hurts us.
However, it’s always important to remember that design can change user decisions and that company goals don’t necessarily align with yours. This is how you protect yourself.