‘Dark patterns’ are defined as intentionally misleading design techniques that websites use to trick users into taking action. Dark patterns are almost always more beneficial for the brand rather creating an optimized user experience that builds mutual trust and good will between the user/consumer and the website/brand.
What do we mean by misleading design techniques or dark patterns? For example, a common dark pattern design strategy on a website is to pre-populate or pre-select radio buttons or subscribe options for users that automatically sign them up for newsletters or other offers that they may not really want or even be aware that they are opting in to receive.
Sites that rely on dark patterns like this often manipulate things like color schemes, placement and layout, or specific wording and tone in the copy in order to covertly influence user behavior.
These misleading UX strategies are not only deceptive but they also undermine the relationship between participants in the digital space. Online participants can no longer be defined as passive consumers of digital content. Instead, consumers are now “users;” they are active co-creators of knowledge, value, and experience with high expectations, navigating a fast-paced digital environment with agility and authority.
Often websites employ dark patterns to quickly and easily manipulate the user journey and encourage action, rather than taking the time, effort, and resources to create an empathetic, intuitive interface that builds mutual trust and long-term brand loyalty between these users and a brand or site.
To make sure your website is free of any dark patterns, here are 4 best practices for designers and marketers to consider when creating their user journey:
1. Be Transparent
Ensuring transparency is key to creating an 'empathetic' interface design that puts the user first and provides them with a trustworthy user experience. One of the most important ways a website can be “transparent” is simply to do what it says it will do. Copy (like Call to Action texts or buttons or other forms) should clearly align with the action the user will take or experience they will be shown. Users should never feel that information is being hidden from them or that they are being manipulated.
Every element on your site (like placement of content, design, or copywriting) should be clear for your users and easy to navigate. For example, your newsletter unsubscribe page is a complex multistep process, users can quickly get frustrated and feel as though you’re trying to manipulate them into remaining a subscriber.
2. Adopt a Neutral Tone
Website copywriting can have a significant affect on your user’s experience of your brand and site. Copy that is overly promotional in nature or obviously deceptive or manipulative (like using guilt tactics, passive aggressive language, or ambiguous wording) will often turn users against your site and sour them on your entire brand, product, or service.
3. Empower Your Users
Give your users the ability to quickly and easily reverse any action they take on your site. At any point on their journey, users should never feel that they are stuck or confused about how to undo an action they’ve taken.
One of the more common examples of this is by giving users a clear option to empty their shopping cart, even if they’re in the final stages of the sales funnel. “Exit CTAs” should appear at every step in the user pipeline as this will build trust and an ideal purchase experience for users.
4. Optimize Error Messages
Warding off errors should be one of the most important goals on your site. If an error still occurs, then you should pay close attention to the way your users are experiencing the error and be mindful not to overuse or misuse error messages.
In many cases, websites that use dark patterns to persuade users will show error copy in cases where a real error has not occurred, instead showing them an error message, for example, whey they don’t complete form fields as expected. Showing users an erroneous error message can lead to a lack of trust towards the website.
Instead, error messages should be replaced with solutions-oriented action items when possible. So, instead of showing a standard error text if a form field isn’t correct or complete, highlight the field and provide them with instructions on how to complete the form.
Benefits of avoiding dark patterns
Don’t be fooled into thinking dark patterns are effective design strategies that encourage your users to take a desired action on your website. The goal of any good design strategy is to earn the long-term trust of the users by providing them with the best, most intuitive user experience.
You may think you’re just persuading your users to take action with dark patterns (and what’s wrong with that?), but these techniques create an unpleasant experience for the user and can even lead to feelings of anger, frustration, mistrust, or resentment toward your brand. The short-term gains dark patterns might achieve for your site are nothing compared to the long-term damage you could be doing to your brand when you use these deceptive techniques.
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