Dark UX

“What’s Dark UX? Isn’t that, like, a bad guy in Star Wars?”

Dark UX, simply put, is using design to get users to do something that you (product designers, creators, owners, etc.) want, even if it isn’t in the user’s best interest. The classic example of Dark UX is the slot machine. By its very design, the player is bound to put more money in than they will get out. All of the lights, noises user interactions are designed to keep the user/player playing. Even the resistance on the handle is designed to make a person feel like they are working hard for a reward.

But, Dark UX can take more subtle forms.

What if a company wants to make more money off of their “free” software?

“Well, let’s generate revenue by installing extra software during a routine update!”

“Ok, how do we do that?”

“XYZ Company will pay us money to install their software with ours. We just bundle it with our installer.”

“Nobody is going to want that.”

“I know, but if we make it the default choice, some users won’t notice and we’ll get some revenue.”

Even more subtle:

Based on studies, we know that the user’s eye is drawn to certain portions of the page. So, advertising is put in that spot. Is this bad? Well, that’s debatable. What’s good for the user? What’s good for the product creator? Sometimes putting ads there means that the user can continue to use a free product. Sometimes it’s good for both. But, when it’s out of balance, and product creators benefit from the design, then it begins to become Dark UX.

Try this:

Which headline will get more clicks?

Applications of Dark UX in Design

8 Reasons Dark UX Will Change the Way You Think About Everything

If both headlines linked to the same article, which headline benefits the user most? Which one benefits the site-owner most? Is this Dark UX? I’ll let you decide.

Here are a few types of Dark UX:

Forced Continuity: Some unfair players will offer a free trial but won’t inform user when set trial is coming to an end. They also require credit card information upon registering for a free trial. When user forgets to resign, credit card gets billed. Usually there is a no-refund policy on forgetting to cancel.

Misdirection: While installation of software most users tend to click “Next” on every screen. They may end up with some additional software installed like antivirus or weird search toolbars they don’t want.

Forced disclosure: When user wants to see locked content and it can only be unlocked by filling in a very complicated form which requires user to provide private or sensitive data.

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