Dark patterns and trust

Dark patterns and trust
15 March 2023     1401

Dark patterns and trust

Web design has come a long way in the last decade. From animations to minimalist designs, designers have explored different ways to create better user experiences.

However, obviously not all web design practices are ethical or user-friendly. In recent years, the term "dark patterns" has gained traction in the UX world. Dark patterns are design techniques that manipulate users into taking actions that, as a rule, are not in their interest, and if they are, only coincidentally.

In this blog we will review a few of them to give you the general idea and then discuss some ways of avoiding these mistakes. Utilizing any such patterns strains the trust between your organization and its audience. And since trust is one of the more crucial currencies in such relationships, it becomes imperative to at least have a general picture of the problem down.

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Dark patterns are a problem because they undermine trust in the digital world and because they cheat users out of relevant information. When users feel manipulated, they are more likely to abandon a website, stop using a service, or share negative feedback with others. In general, we ought to be careful what kind of a digital world (or a mini-space) we might be creating.

As such, the negative effects of dark patterns can extend beyond a single website or business, damaging the reputation, and the condition, of the entire digital ecosystem. In some cases, dark patterns can lead to legal or regulatory consequences for businesses that use them, as they violate consumer protection laws in many jurisdictions.


Bait and switch is a deceptive tactic used by some businesses to lure customers into buying a product or service, only to switch it with something else at the last minute. As a consumer, it is important to be aware of the potential for bait and switch tactics and to do your research before making a purchase. Read reviews, compare prices, and be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.


A semi-related tactic is goes by the name of hidden continuity, frequently used in online services, such as free trials or premium features of a product. Companies will often offer a free trial, but then automatically enroll users into a paid subscription without their knowledge once the trial period is up. This can result in users being charged for a service they do not want, or may not even be aware of.

There is also an extremely common tactic that conceals hidden prices of the products, which are fees or charges that are obscured or not disclosed upfront. E.g., a website may advertise a product at a low price but add hidden fees for shipping, handling, or taxes. This technique is used to increase revenue or make a product or service appear more affordable than it actually is.

Here is a flashy one: Roach motel. The name "roach motel" comes from a brand of insect traps that are designed to lure roaches inside but prevent them from leaving. In web design, the idea is similar - businesses want to lure users in with a free trial or low introductory price, but make it difficult for them to cancel their subscription or opt out. This is surprisingly common, even with extremely rich companies - it is also a surefire way to tank your reputation.

There is a lot more, but for now I think we have given you the general gist.

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One of the more important things to be upfront and clear about is the data you collect and how you use it. Provide a concise privacy policies document, or even a page, that explain what data you collect, how it is used, and who has access to it.

Transparency is essential when it comes to avoiding dark patterns. Provide clear and concise information about your products, services, and pricing. Avoid using misleading or confusing language as best you can. Use plain language that almost anybody can understand, while avoiding jargon and technical terms. Provide easy-to-understand terms and conditions, privacy policies, and other legal documents.

Also, avoid using language that creates a sense of urgency or scarcity. Instead, focus on the benefits of your product or service. On top of that, make it easy for users to opt-out of services, subscriptions, or emails. Do not make users jump through hoops to cancel a subscription or opt-out of a service.

And finally, As a designer, you have a responsibility to advocate for ethical design practices. Share your knowledge and expertise with others in the industry and encourage them to design with ethics and user needs in mind. You can do this by linking or writing blogs, featuring other websites on your own one, etc.