3 min.
Unfair interfaces: when ergonomics is used to deceive
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Unfair interfaces: when ergonomics is used to deceive

Business Strategy Client experience & UX

The concept of "dark pattern", which I translate here as "unfair interface", was described by Harry Brignull from 2010. These are interfaces deliberately designed to lead us to perform an action beneficial to the company (for example, subscribing to a recurring subscription), but disadvantageous for the consumer.


These interfaces, deliberately designed to deceive, are therefore to be distinguished:

  • Design errors: design errors, being unintentional, can create interfaces that mislead, but not necessarily in an unfair way because disloyalty implies bad faith
  • Persuasive interfaces: persuasion consists more of convincing using words (which convey information), emotion (for example an inspiring photo) or reasoning (Wikipedia).



A friend told me of having received, in a short period of time, a large number of invitations to join LinkedIn from her friends. Prior to this, LinkedIn had just made a significant, but relatively difficult to perceive, change to its "Do you know them" template. Without warning, LinkedIn started including people who are not yet members of LinkedIn in the suggestions, whereas previously this page was limited to displaying members of LinkedIn.




The wording "Add to Network" does not imply that these people are not registered with LinkedIn and will receive an invitation to join LinkedIn. This tactic is one of the most common. Harry Brignull, the father of the dark pattern concept, called it the "Bait and switch" tactic, which could be translated as "mislead".



LinkedIn's goal is to get members to invite more people to join the site, a goal that could be pursued in a number of ways. However, LinkedIn has chosen to do so in a way that is not very transparent, and this in a likely deliberate way. Here, for example, is one of the many tactics that LinkedIn could have used to persuade its members instead of misleading them.



Exploratory mockup of a more honest alternate UI element.

The interface above clarifies that this contact is not a member of LinkedIn and allows the Internet user to revise the invitation message, as is currently the case when inviting contacts who are already members of LinkedIn. Also, the origin of this suggestion also appears. Obviously, it is likely that this alternative interface would lead to a drop in the number of invitations. However, by offering the possibility to personalize the invitation message, it is not impossible that it can improve the response rate of invitations, therefore ultimately the number of new members in LinkedIn.


3 types of consequences of unfair interfaces for the user


As we said, unfair interfaces are in one way or another disadvantageous for the Internet user. Consequences are basically of 3 types:


1. Damage to reputation


021714_1821_Interfacesd2I recently received an invitation to join the Twoo dating site from a friend. Knowing that she would never have deliberately invited me to this site, I investigated and discovered that Techcrunch had been interested in this site's new member acquisition tactics for over a year. According to Techcrunch, the "Next" button on the "Contacts" screen, which presents itself as an alternative to "Connect", did not avoid inviting friends. This is a very unfair interface that leads the user to invite his friends without our explicit consent, for the benefit of Twoo, but to the detriment of the user's reputation (not really cool to invite his friends on a dating site).


2. Damage to your wallet

021714_1821_Interfacesd5Disadvantage for the Internet user is sometimes pecuniary. For example, the companies TransUnion and Equifax, two companies that manage the consumer's credit report, are trying to get the consumer to subscribe to an expensive subscription to their credit report, when they are required by law to provide consumers with their credit report free of charge. On each of the two sites, as soon as you click on the call to action to obtain your credit report, you begin the process of purchasing a monthly subscription with automatic renewal that you cannot change before continuing. . At TransUnison, they even put the precision "per month" on a different line from the price, which adds to the confusion.


3. Invasion of privacy

In many cases, the objective of the unfair interface is to obtain the list of the user's contacts or even to encourage him to subscribe to a newsletter.

For example, the page to download the Axure software seems to suggest that we must provide our email to download the software when this is not the case. To achieve this, it was enough to include an email field, without indicating that this field is optional. Combined with a pre-checked box to subscribe to their newsletter, we imagine that this tactic is very effective.



Invest for the long term


Unfair tactics certainly yield short-term results; but in the long term, these erode trust. To achieve lasting success, it is better to invest in the creation of content or services with real value, and to persuade the consumer of this value, in particular through persuasive and user-friendly interfaces, i.e. by investing in strategy and web ergonomics.




Dark Patterns Library