How Many “Dark Patterns” Can You Name?

I have always been amazed by and supportive of simple but genius ideas I keep coming across daily. This time it’s "Dark Patterns" community initiative by Harry Brignull.

"Dark Patterns" is the wiki of “dirty tricks" designers use to cheat people into doing things they are aimed to. Here’s a great presentation to introduce you to the project:

Some cool terms which have already made the wiki (I am not sure who these were coined by) include:

  • Forced Continuity: I see it so often! It’s when you need to give your credit cards details to sign up for *free trial*. "When the trial comes to an end, you automatically start getting billed for the paid service."
  • Privacy Zuckering stands for "creating deliberately confusing jargon and user-interfaces which trick your users into sharing more info about themselves than they really want to."
  • Friend Spam: Who haven’t been tricked into spamming his friends with massive invites to join some network?!
  • Trick questions stands for a greyish practice of making the user respond to a question (typically in the checkout process), which, when glanced upon quickly appears to ask one thing, but if read carefully, asks another thing entirely

Example: When buying any item from, the checkout page presents a tricky selection of options regarding “free/paid” delivery and a “free/paid” catalogue, as shown below (see the screenshot here). And here’s another example.

Being aware of these shady practices is a must for any marketer or web developer. One of the popular beliefs expressed in the related post cited below is that:

One thing that one cannot fail to notice is that all these patterns rely on coercion, and despite the instincts of aggressive salesmen, they are all less productive than genuinely persuasive techniques, which do not result in the customer feeling a sense of a resentment.

Other examples mentioned in the discussion announcing the wiki:

  • Pre-checked boxes on sign up with messages like: “Uncheck this box if you don’t not want to receive newsletters from us”
  • Games which require you to post a message to Facebook/twitter in order to progress in the game. (See “Friend Spam” practice above)
  • Websites that make it super easy to sign up but then require to call back, email multiple times and confirm that you want to unsubscribe (OR: Cancel My Account button leads to a page that simply gives you a telephone number for a ‘customer service team’)
  • "Forced subscription": At the end of a transaction, the button you see is a big “Continue” button. If you push it you sign up for something.
  • Hiding telephone numbers, trying to drive people to use email (I’ve seen many companies trying to hide email address to force people to use FAQ or knowledge base sections to find answers themselves)
  • Having to opt out instead of opting in: this is what both Google and Facebook are well known for.
  • Any other? Let’s discuss this in the comments!
Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project,
Ann Smarty

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7 thoughts on “How Many “Dark Patterns” Can You Name?

  1. Oh yeah, I had encountered much of what you had listed and if you don’t have that keen eye and reading what the page before hitting that button, you can be fooled into their trick. I had also seen one trick that they will tell you that it is a free download of an ebook but in reality is just a free newsletter that you have to buy the ebook.

  2. Great post and presentation. It seems the bigger the company the worse they are. I’ve been warning friends about the Ryan Air site for a while now but despite being hated for their practices it doesn’t put people off buying cheap flights. The company have a very clever approach and seem to pride themselves on the way they operate.