The internet and websites are packed with tons of useful information and fun educational experiences, but also risks and dangers. Take, for example, buying something online. Some websites make it difficult to get a refund or they trick you into buying something you don’t want. These are called deceptive design patterns.
Formerly called dark patterns, because they’re often hidden until you have a problem, the name was changed since “dark”, in this case, meant bad, and historically this term has been used by some to promote the idea that non-white people are bad.
The good news is that you can learn most of the deceptive design patterns. Here are a few of the most common.
This design practice is also called the “roach motel” after a TV ad years ago advertising a product that claimed roaches checked in but could never check out. Opt-in Forever happens when someone wants to downgrade or cancel a service or product but cannot figure out how to do so. They might be forced to repeatedly verify their account status, for example. The only way to avoid this pattern is to research companies and products online to find out if other people have had problems.
When you click to buy something on an e-commerce website and then go to the checkout page, you might find additional items in your cart. Best case, they’re related items that might be useful for what you want to buy. And deleting these items is both obvious and easy. In the worst case, you must hunt around to figure out how to delete the items. In either situation, you are forced to do something you don’t need or want to do.
This is something I personally don’t like. If you’re on a website looking to buy something, some sites will display a constant stream of popups advertising that other people are interested in purchasing the same product. Maybe those buyers are real–maybe not. These popups try to agitate you to buy something more quickly. A good e-commerce site will already have a page with buyer recommendations. Search online, as well, for recommendations and problems with a product or website.
If you choose one product over another, you might see language on your screen that shames or tries to guilt you into buying the more expensive product or service. Most advertising is about making people feel inadequate and in need of a product or service. Confirm Shaming, however, takes it to another level with pushy, forceful language.
Confusing Design and Language
Do you know what a double negative is? It’s something like, “Do not uncheck this box if you want to receive our emails”. Other confusing web page designs include hidden instructions about how to opt out or make it difficult to do what you want, perhaps by repeatedly asking you to confirm you don’t want to buy something.
Many sites include free trials that require credit card information. But that’s not the actual deceptive design. The problem happens when the free trial ends. Some websites make it hard to get a refund. If you sign up for a free trial, only give your credit card information if you trust the website and if the signup page includes instructions on how to get a refund. The confirmation email should also include refund instructions. Before you sign up, you can contact the refund email address to see how responsive the website owner is.