Supermarkets: A Den of Dark Design

Supermarkets: A Den of Dark Design

When you walk into a supermarket you are typically greeted by the smell of fresh baked bread or the sight of row upon row of colourful, fragrant vegetables. Logically, bread and vegetables are not the first thing we want to put into our shopping trolleys – those soft, fluffy breadrolls are not going to hold up well under the weight of the rest of the household groceries. But the sight of all those healthy fruits and vegetables and the smell of baking bread is irresistible, causing us to rethink our dinner plans, stray from our shopping lists and spend more money than we had planned.

The digital world is a haven for these types of manipulative design patterns and sketchy UX practises. Designers use our emotional responses and laziness against us, in order to persuade us to behave a certain way.

Easy In…Difficult Out

As Harry Brignull from Dark Patterns explains, most of these sneaky interface design tricks boil down to one idea, “Easy In…Difficult Out”. Designers make it as easy and painless as possible for a user to perform the behaviour that the designer desires, but extremely difficult to undo it.

Classic Evil UX from Ryanair

Classic Evil UX from Ryanair

Dark Patterns is a fascinating repository for some of these UI patterns and dastardly design decisions. Here, websites are named and shamed for manipulative interfaces and techniques. Just some of the tricks employed include:

  • hiding the real cost of an item until the very end of the purchasing process
  • adding things to the user’s basket without their knowledge
  • tricking the user into disclosing their friends’ contact details
  • persuading the user that they need to give access to more information than is really necessary

Designers walk a fine line between persuasion and manipulation – we want our product to work so well that the user doesn’t even have to think about it, but when a user puts their trust in this process they are also vulnerable to our nefarious intentions. What if the designer doesn’t have your best interests at heart? What if they are trying to trick you into doing something you might not want to do? Welcome to the world of Evil UX.

If you’re interested in learning more about persuasive design techniques, there are some fantastic resources out there, including Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational” and a recent book from Chris Nodder, “Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation” which includes a breakdown of evil tricks to use, themed to the 7 Deadly Sins.

Happy Hallowe’en!