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The Dark (Patterns) Side of UX Design

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Interest in critical scholarship that engages with the complexity of user experience (UX) practice is rapidly expanding, yet the vocabulary for describing and assessing criticality in practice is currently lacking. In this paper, we outline and explore the limits of a specific ethical phenomenon known as "dark patterns," where user value is supplanted in favor of shareholder value. We assembled a corpus of examples of practitioner-identified dark patterns and performed a content analysis to determine the ethical concerns contained in these examples. This analysis revealed a wide range of ethical issues raised by practitioners that were frequently conflated under the umbrella term of dark patterns, while also underscoring a shared concern that UX designers could easily become complicit in manipulative or unreasonably persuasive practices. We conclude with implications for the education and practice of UX designers, and a proposal for broadening research on the ethics of user experience.

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The Dark (Patterns) Side of UX Design

  1. 1. COLIN M. GRAY, YUBO KOU, 
 BRYAN BATTLES, JOSEPH HOGGATT, 
 & AUSTIN L. TOOMBS PURDUE UNIVERSITY The Dark (Patterns) Side OF UX DESIGN
  2. 2. Increasing interest in critical/
 ethical aspects of HCI & UX
  3. 3. Our Concern Ethics-focused methods are frequently bound to academia, making practitioner access to these conversations difficult, and activation of their implications problematic.
  4. 4. https://medium.com/shanghaiist/chinese-shoe-company-tricks-people- into-swiping-instagram-ad-with-fake-strand-of-hair-54d8a2d8ec1d
  5. 5. Harry Brignull UX practitioner “A user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things…they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind”
  6. 6. BRIGNULL’STYPOLOGY
  7. 7. EXPANDINGUPONBRIGNULL Which user or stakeholder interests are or should be kept in mind? What is the user being “tricked” into doing, and with what motivation? Are there instances where being tricked into doing something is desired by the user? Can interactions not designed to trick the user later become dark patterns through tech infrastructure changes?
  8. 8. EXPANDINGUPONBRIGNULL Which user or stakeholder interests are or should be kept in mind? What is the user being “tricked” into doing, and with what motivation? Are there instances where being tricked into doing something is desired by the user? Can interactions not designed to trick the user later become dark patterns through tech infrastructure changes?
  9. 9. EXPANDINGUPONBRIGNULL Which user or stakeholder interests are or should be kept in mind? What is the user being “tricked” into doing, and with what motivation? Are there instances where being tricked into doing something is desired by the user? Can interactions not designed to trick the user later become dark patterns through tech infrastructure changes?
  10. 10. EXPANDINGUPONBRIGNULL Which user or stakeholder interests are or should be kept in mind? What is the user being “tricked” into doing, and with what motivation? Are there instances where being tricked into doing something is desired by the user? Can interactions not designed to trick the user later become dark patterns through tech infrastructure changes?
  11. 11. Aims Connect Brignull’s typology more strongly to existing literature on ethics and values Create more tractable dark pattern categories for practitioner use & interrogation 1 2
  12. 12. Aims Connect Brignull’s typology more strongly to existing literature on ethics and values Create more tractable dark pattern categories for practitioner use & interrogation 1 2
  13. 13. Corpus Generation Collecting dark patterns exemplars.
  14. 14. CORPUS GENERATION Search Process Researcher 2 CS Background API Bot Crawling #darkpatterns Researcher 1 UX Background Commercial Sites BlogsSearch Engines Social Media Corpus of “dark patterns” related artifacts
  15. 15. 118 artifacts collected from social media outlets CORPUS GENERATION 45 from practitioner blogs40 from news outlets19 from personal product interactions10 from darkpatterns.org4
  16. 16. Corpus Analysis Coding and categorizing the collected artifacts.
  17. 17. CORPUS ANALYSIS Open Coding Approach Brignull’s Categories + Context Interaction Quality Intended User Group = Hierarchical Themes Reflecting Designer Strateg(ies)
  18. 18. Five Dark Strategies Appearing to serve as strategic motivators in practice. NAGGING OBSTRUCTION SNEAKING INTERFACE INTERFERENCE FORCED ACTION
  19. 19. 1 Nagging A minor redirection of expected functionality that may persist over one or more interactions. DARK STRATEGIES
  20. 20. 1 Apple: iCloud Storage NAGGING EXAMPLE
  21. 21. 2 Obstruction Impeding a task flow, making an interaction more difficult than it needs to be, with intent to dissuade an action. Brignull’s “Roach Motel”SUBTYPES Brignull’s “Price Comparison Prevention” Intermediate Currency DARK STRATEGIES
  22. 22. 2 Zynga: Unsubscribe OBSTRUCTION EXAMPLE
  23. 23. 3 Sneaking Hiding, disguising, or delaying the divulging of relevant information. Often intended to force uninformed decisions. Brignull’s “Bait and Switch” Brignull’s “Forced Continuity”SUBTYPES Brignull’s “Hidden Costs” Brignull’s “Sneak into Basket” DARK STRATEGIES
  24. 24. 3 Sleep Cycle: “Free Trial” SNEAKING EXAMPLE
  25. 25. 4 Interface Interference Privileging specific actions over others, thereby confusing the user or limiting discoverability of important actions. Brignull’s “Trick Questions” Toying with EmotionSUBTYPES False Hierarchy Brignull’s “Disguised Ad” Preselection Aesthetic Manipulation Hidden Information DARK STRATEGIES
  26. 26. 4 Two Dots: Muscle Memory INTERFACE INTERFERENCE EXAMPLE
  27. 27. 5 Forced Action Requiring users to perform a specific action to access (or continue to access) specific functionality. Social PyramidSUBTYPES Brignull’s “Privacy Zuckering” Gamification DARK STRATEGIES
  28. 28. 5 Instagram: No Option for “No” FORCED ACTION EXAMPLE
  29. 29. darkpatterns.uxp2.com CORPUS OF ARTIFACTS
  30. 30. Qualities & Breadth of Potential “Dark”ness Reduction in user agency or 
 action possibilities Persuasion or dark patterns? How to balance user and 
 shareholder value?
  31. 31. Design Responsibility & Design Character When does a pattern become dark? Ethics codes generally conflate designer intent and eventual use Opportunities for ethical 
 design leadership
  32. 32. Implications & Future Work Moving forward.
  33. 33. UX Pedagogy & Practice Increased ethical awareness in design and UX education Documentation of practice-based ethical dilemmas
  34. 34. Criticality & HCI Further integration and expansion of value-centered methods in UX Focus on applied, pragmatist views of ethics in HCI research and practice
  35. 35. THANK YOU COLIN M. GRAY colingray.me | uxp2.com 
 gray42@purdue.edu This research was funded in part by National Science Foundation Grant No. #1657310

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