Nathan B Phillips


Dark Patterns in Web Design

The concept of ‘dark patterns’ refers to design principles that trick users into making certain actions. These techniques are used in various contexts and in various forms, but they all share a common denominator: they are designed to make the user take an action they wouldn’t normally take, with the end result being that the user gets taken care of more than they would if they had simply done their own research and made an informed decision.

If we look at it from this perspective, using design patterns as a way to make a user perform an unwanted action is something similar to offering them a carrot for which there is no visible world or any other form of deception designed to get them to take a particular action that ultimately benefits you but not necessarily them. The only difference between these two examples is that one uses carrots whereas the other uses dark patterns, so it makes sense why there’s so much overlap between the two.

What is a dark pattern?

In order to identify a pattern as dark, the design must have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • The user is unaware that it’s a dark pattern.
  • It uses elements of psychology in order to trick the user into doing something they would not normally do.
  • It manipulates their emotions in order to encourage them towards making a particular action.
  • It induces cognitive dissonance and makes the individual feel as though they’re taking advantage of someone else without considering how they will benefit from it.
  • It’s unethical, manipulative or deceptive on any level.

Why do designers use dark patterns?

Dark patterns are used to trick users into making certain actions. It’s a method used by designers to get users to perform an action that is beneficial for the business but not necessarily for the user. There are many reasons why dark patterns can be implemented.

  1. A designer may be trying to increase conversion rates by ‘tricking’ people into taking a particular action, like signing up for a subscription or purchasing a product.
  2. Mass marketing and advertising can also be done with dark patterns, which decreases costs and increases reach.
  3. Dark patterns are also used when designing websites or apps so that they can manipulate user behavior in order to serve content more effectively or make it easier for users to find what they want. For example, if you have a website that sells clothes online, you might use dark patterns by using color schemes and subtle design tricks that help users find the items they need more easily.

How to spot a dark pattern in web design

The key to spotting a dark pattern is understanding how users typically interact with your website. If you want to avoid creating one, it’s important that you keep in mind the steps that are typically taken when users are interacting with your site and take note of whether or not these steps happen consistently enough across all pages.

If there is a clear pattern, you can begin to identify dark patterns based on this behavior. Take for example the following website, which has a natural progression for how people would browse its different pages:

  • Visitors start on the homepage and scroll down to find what they’re interested in
  • They click on an individual article and read the content before deciding to leave
  • The user then clicks on another article before leaving
  • The user may click on another article before leaving again or choose to stay put and type in a search term
  • With no other options left, visitors will eventually get tired of browsing and leave
  • Once the visitor leaves their account, they’ll stop at their homepage again if they don’t have any other accounts logged in
  • A visitor may return on another day or week later if they have more time or decide that they wanted more information on some aspect of the site’s content.

This process has been repeated consistently across all pages so it’s easy to spot where potential traps lay. If we think about this process as being like an elevator ride.

Be suspicious if you encounter a dark pattern in web design

The first step in spotting a dark pattern is to be suspicious if you encounter one online. It’s easy for some of us to forget that the internet isn’t an innocent place, and so sometimes we do not take sufficient precautions before entering a website. This is especially true with websites that use design patterns to trick users into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do.

As soon as you enter a website and feel like something doesn’t “feel right,” it may be a good idea to leave the website and pursue another option. If you must continue to browse the website, make sure you do your research beforehand (e.g., by checking out reviews) in order to identify potential issues that might arise from your interaction with the website.


Dark patterns are design elements that manipulate user behavior for the benefit of the website. They can be used maliciously to trick users into making actions that they otherwise wouldn’t. Dark patterns are designed to manipulate, deceive, or confuse users into doing what they want. With the rise of dark patterns in web design, it is important that designers learn how to avoid them and do their research so they don’t harm their users.

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