Good designers aim to meet their users’ needs. But there is a whole other breed of designers who are trying to trick their users into something they don’t want to do. Find out about the evil magicians using dark patterns on you.
How technology hijacks people’s minds — from a magician and Google’s design ethicist — Tristan Harris
Tristan Harris says his work aims to “defend a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked”. In this excellent article, the former Google designer and magician explores how what he learned as a magician informed him about psychology, which in turn taught him how to be a good designer.
Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.
And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.
What do you expect to happen when you click the cross at the top-right of a dialogue box in Windows? Most people’s expectation is for the message to go away, and for nothing else to happen.
But last week Microsoft decided to make it do something different. They made it install an entirely new operating system.
Microsoft feel a necessity to get as many people as possible upgraded to Windows 10 for security reasons. But some users may have legitimate reasons to hold off from the upgrade. By breaking users’ expectations, Microsoft may in turn have broken users’ trust as well.
Unfortunately, examples of such devious design are abundant, as this New York Times article shows. Several big companies are singled out for using tricky user interfaces, known as dark patterns.
But this nuanced article reminds us that such techniques can be used for good as well as evil.
Persuasive design is a longstanding practice, not just in marketing but in health care and philanthropy. Countries that nudge their citizens to become organ donors — by requiring them to opt out if they don’t want to donate their body parts — have a higher rate of participation than the United States, where people can choose to sign up for organ donation when they obtain driver’s licenses or ID cards.
The article ends with an interesting example that highlights how our choice of words in microcopy can have a big effect on how people feel using it:
When I’m on the desktop computer at the office and finish ordering books on Amazon.com for an article I’m working on, for instance, I can never find a simple log-out button. Instead, I scroll down a column marked “Hello, Natasha — Your Account” and then click on an option that reads: “Not Natasha? Sign Out.” But the notion that in order to sign off, I have to deny that I am me always gives me pause.
For more examples of UX bad practice, check out Dark Patterns, which has been documenting the worst examples of evil design for the past few years.
Have you ever been the victim of a dark pattern? Let us know in the comments.