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Quick, only available to read for a few more days

3 min read

Just kidding, but if you read this far, my ‘trick’ worked.

Wondering what I’m on about? Well, it was a little technique I borrowed from the world of UX to segue way perfectly into talking about dark patterns.

For anyone new to the term, dark patterns, like the headline above, are deceptive methods that exploit customers into unintended behaviour.

You know, like purchasing a new coat when you were meant to be doing research into a company and its well-publicised brand purpose.

As marketers and business owners, it’s good to know what they are so you can avoid them, and protect your customers from them – they just might love you for it.

The term was popularised in 2010 by Harry Brignull, a user experience expert.

He was so enraged by the practice, and how big companies were deliberately trying to influence users into unintended actions that he set up a website to name and shame them.

Here are some of the most common dark patterns to look out for.

Hidden Costs

As they say, when something is too good to be true, it usually is. We all know that those cheap Ryanair flights are not going to cost the amount we first see, but the allure of seemingly low prices just keeps us coming back for more.

Disguised Ads

As the name suggests, an ad that doesn’t look like an ad. This tactic is commonplace when downloading ‘freebies’, especially fonts or stock photography. Because why would you not click the large ‘download now’ button?


What do kids and adverts have in common? They both know how to tug at your emotional heartstrings to get you to buy them something you never intended to. Like a new coat or a box of donuts. And it works in the context of user experience as well.

Say you were on the website for a well-known outdoor pursuits company for ‘work purposes only’ and a pop-up appeared. In exchange for an email address, you are offered a small discount towards that new coat. 

You have two options, “I agree” or “No thanks, I don’t like saving money or the planet”. 

They’re essentially guilt-tripping you into giving them your data. This may be a slight exaggeration, but it demonstrates just how far some businesses will go to get the click. Not a good look for your brand.

Forced Continuity

At first, the phrase ‘Netflix and chill’ was probably intended to reassure customers that once the free 7-day trial ends they should relax. As its services were still available to be ‘enjoyed’ having willingly given over their credit card details when signing up. This meant customers automatically began a full subscription.

Again, an extreme example to illustrate a point. But it’s a common tactic used by streaming platforms and subscription services.

Coglode have done a great job in dissecting Amazon Prime’s customer journey and suggested an improvement here.


FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out’, is a well-used tactic in user experience design. I’m not ashamed to admit that I get FOMO, especially as I sit here in my new Jacket, safe in the knowledge that I managed to get one of only 2 that the online store had left in stock. Creating urgency can be a smart tactic, but do it too often and you risk coming across as disingenuous.

Roach Motel

This should be known as Hotel California. You can check in anytime you like but you can never leave. Or to put it literally, a website allows you to do something easily such as sign up to a social platform but makes it incredibly difficult to back out and cancel your account. Yes, Meta, we’re looking at you.

Another dig at Meta (hence the name), who is well known for their previous use of misleading wording and intrusive default settings. Basically, it’s the forced oversharing of our personal details.

Privacy Zuckering/Suckering

While some dark patterns are more than likely going to annoy customers and create mistrust towards a company, business owners and start-up founders can face prosecution for misusing them.

Purposely misleading customers through deceptive or misleading UX runs the risk of contravening multiple Consumer Protection Laws as outlined here.

Aside from the ‘grey’ areas associated with dark patterns, the short-term gains they offer (such as more people buying coats) mean the use of them can be an attractive strategy for e-commerce businesses.

In the long term though, dark patterns can affect customer loyalty, lower trust in your brand and damage your business.

To reference every designer’s ‘go-to’ brand, the solution is to be more Apple. Tim Cook (Apple CEO) says: “Most business models have focused on self-interest instead of user experience”.

Put simply, think of your customers first, and they are more likely to return and buy more coats in the future.

If you’re looking to create an e-commerce website that puts users first, then get in touch.