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Examples of Dark Design – Why is it Unethical

Dark pattern appears on the other end of the spectrum of ethical design. Dark pattern design in UX are deceptive tricks on a website or application that mislead users into taking actions that they do not want to. An example of this is asking users to share their data to upgrade their account. This appears to be harmless, but dark design patterns are unethical because they are misleading their users.

Dark Pattern was coined in 2010 when e-commerce industries boomed on the web. A lot of designers were using dark patterns in order to increase sales, get subscriptions and manipulate users. The term was coined by London based UX designer Harry Brignull who defined it as “a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users to do things, such as making additional purchases or sign up for s subscription service.”

Dark pattern is not the same as ‘bad design’. These are not mistakes that have been made unintentionally. They have been carefully crafted, with an understanding of human psychology but do not have the user’s interest in mind. Bad design does not have any ill or malicious intent.

Common examples of dark pattern design

Dark patterns can be found in different ways almost everywhere. All of us would have encountered examples of dark pattern design without even realizing it. Let us look at some common examples of dark pattern design and why it is unethical.

Credit card info required for free trial

All of us encountered this example of dark pattern design. It is the most common example of dark pattern design. Let us assume that you have been considering signing up for a premium subscription to an editing software. The website offers a free trial and you decide to start a trial. However when you go to the setup page where you are asked to create an account, you are asked for your credit card information. You decide to fill up the details as the page clearly says that you will not be charged for the trial. Thus you willingly offer your credit card details and sign up for the trial account.

After the trial duration has passed, the company has secretly converted your trial account to a regular paid account. Since they already have your credit card details, they are able to deduct a fee every month without your knowledge. Until you receive your bank statement at the end of the month you might be completely unaware about this hidden fee.

The worst part is that companies make it extremely difficult for you to terminate your subscription, tricking customers to continue paying these fees for a very long time.

2. Signing customers up for promotional emails automatically

Most E-commerce websites have a tiny line of text on the checkout step that asks customers if they would like to receive promotional emails or newsletters from the company. Customers do have the option of unchecking the box, but often the text is so tiny, that they hardly even notice it. Thus they end up checking out without carefully reading the option. In this way, the e-commerce website is able to inadvertently add more subscribers to their mailing list by tricking their customers, and the customer is stuck with thousands of unread newsletters in their inbox.


A lot of websites use large pop-up ads that fill up your screen to collect email addresses. These pop-ups have a call to action button that says ‘Sign Up’ but the button to close the pop-up with a cross or a ‘No Thanks’ button will be barely noticeable. Most customers just choose to give their email address directly, just to get rid of the pop up message. An ethical or better user experience design would have the ‘Sign Up’ and ‘No Thanks’ buttons right next to each other, equal in size.

Add extra items into your shopping cart during the checkout process

Another common example of dark design is the addition of extra items in your checkout process. Often the price of this extra item would be so insignificant that most customers do not even notice this addition to their overall bill. This extra item could be an express delivery fee, insurance or any other item that gets added by default. This is an unethical way of increasing the customers overall charges.

Getting access to your contacts in an unethical way

Most apps use this example of dark design to gain access to your contacts by asking you if you want to invite your phone contacts to use the app as well. Since this is a step that is compulsory to create your profile, most users just keep clicking on the next button to get to the next step and the app easily gains access to your contacts and then sends them spam mails to get them to join the app. LinkedIn was found guilty of using this dark design pattern to collect emails.

Create Fear of Missing Out by using overly persuasive messages

A lot of apps use overly persuasive messages to instill a sense of fear of missing out. Examples of this are social media apps that create addiction by sharing constant notifications, forcing users to check the app. It makes them feel like they will miss out on something if they do not open the app that very instant causing an addiction.


These are just a few of the examples of dark pattern design. It is a lot more common than we think it is. Apart from not just repeating these dark pattern designs, UX designers need to ask themselves at every stage of the design process why they are adding that feature. They should only add features that will truly improve the user experience and add value to your customer in some way. It is extremely important to uphold the trust of your customers and serve them in an honest way.

Sonakshi Kochhar