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Misleading UI Design – Dark Patterns

http://darkpatterns.org/ (Skip the slide show. It’s pointless, confusing and redundant to the more useful content pages)

Blog of the creator of the above site and related post: http://www.90percentofeverything.com/2010/07/08/dark-patterns-dirty-tricks-designers-use-to-make-people-do-stuff/

What’s nice about the examples named and shamed  at http://darkpatterns.org is that my usual filter for these things is Hanlon’s Razor : “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” can’t be reasonably considered to apply in many of these examples.

The beauty of sites like http://darkpatterns.org is that they can be a way for people to call out sites for bad behavior and, hopefully, catalyze change or cost the perpetrators money.

That said, I can tell you from personal experience how easy it is to be forced to do things on a project you consider immoral at worst or just absurdly lame at best. Often not because anyone making the decision is deliberately evil but because it can be the path of least resistance.

It is still important to remember Hanlon’s razor. A lot of really bad and seemingly evil UI elements are accidents of timing, failures of testing, the product of internal strife within an organization or well-meaning failures of imagination.

Often, team members who wanted to, or tried to advocate for a better solution didn’t have the tools to persuade management. Speaking truth to power is very difficult and having examples from other sites and examples that have been publicly ridiculed can help team members say “Hey Boss, I think we might want to look at how we’re doing the ‘opt-in’ on this form. These other guys did it the way we’re thinking of and they caught hell for it.” is a much more likely-to-succeed strategy to change a direction than ‘this is just evil’.  I can tell you, it won’t always work but you will sleep better for having tried.

Finally, and this is a topic for another post, outsourcing the entirety of your project is a great way to get into messes like these. Consider that with too many of the core elements needed to build and maintain your web presence not in-house, it’s very easy for things to slip by that undermine your audience/customer relationships in ways that have nothing at all to do with with your own culture.

Note: I have previously [apparently incorrectly]  attributed Hanlon’s Razor to Benjamin Disraeli. A little googling shows it also attributed to Napoleon among others.

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