UX Dark Patterns: How They Harm Users and Damage Your Brand

Aug 8, 2023Eugenia Sorgetti

In today's digital age, the user experience is paramount. It determines how we feel, navigate, and interact with online platforms. Amidst the myriad of design strategies employed to optimize this experience, there exists a shadowy underbelly: dark patterns. These are deceptive UX strategies that trick users into making decisions they wouldn't have made otherwise. Often, these decisions benefit the business at the expense of the user, leading to fleeting gains but long-term mistrust. This article seeks to shed light on these manipulative design tactics, ensuring both designers and users are well-equipped to recognize, challenge, and avoid them. Dive in to understand the negative repercussions of dark patterns, how they affect user trust and brand reputation, and arm yourself with the knowledge to champion ethical design.

The Impact of Dark Patterns

Dark patterns aren't just nefarious by design; they come with tangible consequences. For users, they create a frustrating and misleading online experience, leading to mistrust and skepticism. Over time, users become wary, second-guessing their actions on platforms and questioning the integrity of the brand. This damages the essential bond of trust between a brand and its user base.

For businesses, the use of dark patterns can lead to immediate benefits, such as increased sales or user sign-ups. However, the long-term consequences are far from positive. Brands that resort to these tactics often find themselves facing public backlash, loss of customer loyalty, and even legal repercussions in some cases. A notable example is when a prominent e-commerce platform faced severe criticism and lost a significant user base after it was found to be automatically adding insurance to purchases without clear user consent.

In the era of social media and instant communication, word spreads quickly. A single misstep rooted in dark patterns can tarnish a brand's reputation irrevocably. It's a high price to pay for short-term gains.

Dissecting the Dark: Types of Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are intentionally misleading design techniques that prey on users. By understanding them, we can be better equipped to spot and avoid them.

Bait and Switch

This occurs when a user is led to believe they are taking one action, but another, often undesirable action, is taken instead.

Example: A user tries to disable a feature in an application, but the button instead subscribes them to a newsletter.

Roach Motel

Designs that make it easy for users to enter a situation but difficult to get out of.

Example: A subscription service that allows instant sign-up online, but requires a phone call to a hard-to-reach customer service to cancel.

Roach motel UX Pattern
Which?: Classic usage of a Roach Motel dark pattern


The use of design to focus a user's attention away from something else, typically the real intent of the page.

Example: Prominent advertising that looks like a navigation element, diverting users from their intended path.

Disguised Ads

Advertisements that are camouflaged to appear as regular content or navigation elements.

Example: A "download" button that's actually an ad, placed near the real download button.

Forced Continuity

When free trials automatically convert to paid subscriptions without explicit and clear consent from the user.

Example: A streaming service that doesn't send a reminder before charging after a free trial ends.

Friend Spam

When applications or services ask for users' contacts and then send out unsolicited messages or emails without clear permission.

Example: A game app that sends requests to all the user's contacts without clear consent.

Sneak into Basket

The act of covertly adding additional items to a user's online shopping cart.

Example: A ticket booking site that adds travel insurance automatically, requiring users to opt-out.

Sneak Into Basket UX Pattern
AppliancesOnline: Hidden cost at the last step

The Path to Ethical Design: Avoiding Dark Patterns

Designing with integrity is a conscious choice. Here are effective strategies to steer clear of misleading design tactics.

Educate Your Team

Foster an environment of continuous learning. Keep the team updated with the latest in design standards and trends, ensuring everyone can recognize and challenge potential dark patterns.

User-Centric Design

Prioritize the user's needs and experiences. Craft designs that genuinely cater to the audience, ensuring they are transparent and user-friendly.

Transparent Communication

Be direct and honest in all designs. Avoid hiding vital information or obfuscating choices, ensuring users always have clarity and control.

Adhere to Ethical Guidelines

Develop a comprehensive set of ethical design guidelines. Having a blueprint to follow ensures that the design process stays on track and avoids the pitfalls of manipulation.

Regular Reviews

Continuously evaluate and refine. Assess designs periodically to ensure they align with best practices, always focusing on user needs and experiences.

The Design Project: Pioneering Ethical Design

The Design Project isn’t just another design agency. Our values make us uniquely positioned to champion transparent and ethical design.

The Design Project's values

Transparency in Action

Our commitment to being vocally self-critical ensures that we benchmark ourselves against the best. No hidden agendas here; users can expect forthrightness in every interaction.

Unyielding Curiosity

Embracing our "Be Curious & Open-minded" ethos, we remain at the forefront of ethical design practices. This passion ensures our designs are not only innovative but also morally sound.

Excellence in Delivery

Upholding our principle to "Strive for excellency," we set high standards and then exceed them. This ensures our designs are not only user-friendly but also elite.

Accountability as Our Pillar

We live by the "Be accountable and driven" value. This unwavering commitment means that your success is our success, making us steadfast allies in your design journey.

Action-Oriented Approach

Our "Bias for Action" mantra ensures that we remain proactive. By continuously iterating and refining, we achieve an unparalleled blend of quality and efficiency.

At The Design Project, our core values ensure that we not only craft top-tier designs but also uphold the sanctity of user trust. In a world rife with shortcuts and manipulations, we stand as a beacon of genuine and ethical design.

Delving Deeper: Essential Resources on Ethical Design

The journey to understand and combat dark patterns is ongoing, and the design community continuously offers resources to aid this cause. One proactive approach is participating in redesign challenges; in this community Figma file, you can find a simple challenge to transform dark patterns into ethical, user-friendly designs.

If you're keen on real-world examples of these manipulative designs, the subreddit assholedesign is an active community of enthusiasts spotlighting and critiquing such instances. There are also dedicated platforms, including the Dark Patterns Hall of Shame and Deceptive Patterns, which catalog and dissect these deceptive strategies. For those looking for a deep dive into the subject, books such as Evil by Design by Chris Nodder offer an insightful exploration into the psychology behind dark patterns. Embrace these resources and play your part in fostering ethical design practices.


The realm of UX/UI design is constantly evolving, driven by tools like Figma and underscored by a commitment to ethical design principles. As designers, it's essential to keep learning and adapting. The aforementioned articles serve as a stepping stone to dive deeper into Figma and its potential. Remember, design isn't just about aesthetics; it's about creating user-friendly, ethical, and innovative solutions. The resources shared will guide you towards that goal, ensuring your designs remain cutting-edge and user-centric.

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Eugenia Sorgetti

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