Web UX Design for High Converting Websites

Reasons Against Dark Patterns

Paul Boag

Paul Boag

Web UX Design for High Converting Websites

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The "Reasons Against Dark Patterns" Lesson is part of the full, Web UX Design for High Converting Websites course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul believes the business reasons to avoid dark patterns are more compelling than the ethical reasons. When users recognize they are being manipulated, it can undermine a brand. Unhappy customers can increase a business's expenses in other areas like support or merchandise returns.


Transcript from the "Reasons Against Dark Patterns" Lesson

>> So I think to some degree the ethical argument is a bit of a dead end, okay? So I wanna focus on in this introduction is really that there are good business reasons for not resorting to these kinds of dark patterns. And those business reasons in my opinion are far more compelling than the ethical argument.

And so I know that this kind of introduction, this first segment for today is all quite theoretical, all right? We haven't looked at any design yet, we've not looked at any copy yet, or anything like that. But making a decision on your approach out of the gate when you do things like this, knowing how you're gonna approach it is so fundamental to success with conversion and the type of conversion that you want to achieve.

So understanding where that line is between what you are willing to do to encourage conversion and what you're not willing to do is a really important line to walk. You need to know where that is. And so I think it's really important you understand the consequences if you start to stray into the world of dark patterns.

So let's look at these three business reasons. Reason number 1 is a consumers are cynical, savvy, and spoilt for choice. So you remember that I mentioned booking.com a minute ago. So this is a screen grab from booking.com. And it uses scarcity, right? This idea that scares the primal brain, the fact that something is gonna run out, there's not gonna be enough resources, okay?

So for example, it says, there's only six rooms left on our site for this, and this deal is gonna expire in 11 hours, okay? And 21 other people are looking at this room. All of those things are designed to create a sense of panic in you, right? That if you don't act soon, you're gonna miss out on the opportunity.

First of all, let's make it clear. This works without a doubt, right? It will increase conversion rates, okay? And manipulating people in this way does work. Yet, there were consequences for it working. And there is an assumption that people often make that because it works, therefore, users must be unaware that they're being manipulated.

But that is actually not the case, okay? System two, our conscious minds can be completely aware of what's going on, but being undermined in our decision making, influence to know decision making process by that older part of our brain, that primal part of our brain. And this came out in usability testing that I've run on exactly this site, right?

So I decided to run some usability testing to see how people responded to booking.com and the process of booking. And this is what one user subjects said to me. I hate all of this manipulative crap, I don't know whether I'm allowed to say that but that's what the guy said.

Trying to convince me the room is about to sell out, I just ignore that stuff, right? So the power of dark patterns isn't that people don't aren't aware of them, it's the fact that they think they can ignore them, okay? But in truth, they're being influenced by them anyway.

So let's be clear, people know you're attempting to manipulate them, and that has big consequences. Not only for which, over time, you get to a situation where people become increasingly disgruntled about it. There's more and more talk about it. There's more and more complaints about it, and it starts to have real impact.

It gets to the point where even government bodies start to take awareness of this. So the CMA in the UK are a consumer rights body, government body. And the CMA have taken enforcement action to bring to an end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges, and other practices in the online hotel booking market.

They might as well have said booking.com, right? These are wholly unacceptable. So dark patterns have long term consequences. And if users are aware that they're being manipulated, you can alienate them very quickly, and they can easily go elsewhere. After all, there are literally hundreds of thousands of sites that offer hotel booking.

Now, you might go, well, hang on a minute, booking.com is very successful. So obviously, that's not the case there. And as I did research into this, I was discovering that actually the reason people liked booking.com and kept using booking.com was because it was easy to use. Because they knew it, they understood it, because they've been using it before.

And so the success of the site was despite the dark patterns not because of them, okay? People kept using it for other reasons, other things they liked about the site. And it's interesting to note that the reason that they did keep using it was still a psychological one.

It was easy. They didn't have to think. So it can get really quite interesting quite quickly once we realize that users are aware when we're attempting to manipulate them. Because we can quickly use them and quickly alienate them. And that can mean that you might get some short-term improvements in conversion, but long-term, you're gonna find it increasingly difficult to maintain those customer relationships.

Add to that, the one disgruntled customer can seriously undermine a brand, and you get into some real problem areas. So I mean, the obvious power that consumers now have is that they can write reviews about you, right? They can write reviews about your products and services. And when there's a lot of people that feel that they're being manipulated, that feel they're being tricked into doing stuff, when they start to come together and they start to complain, it causes real problems.

So one of the great examples of this happened all the way back in the late 90s, where one blogger wrote a blog post called My Del Hell, about their terrible experience with Dell. And that galvanized a community of other people who've had terrible experiences, and it knocked a third off of Dell share price.

That's how big a difference this kind of thing can make when you annoy your potential customers or your existing customers. But even one customer in isolation can cause all kinds of problems if they're not happy. Take the case of Hasan Syed, right? He is my hero, this guy.

Hasan Syed had some problems with British Airways. I won't get into what they were, it's somewhat irrelevant. But he got so annoyed with British Airways that he decided to take out a promoted tweet. Which meant that whenever anybody talked about British Airways on Twitter, when anybody mentioned British Airways, they got back a promoted tweet that read, don't fly with British Airways, their customer experience is horrendous, okay?

Now, this got picked up by Mashable and the other tech blogs, and then it got picked up by the BBC and Fox News and all of these news outlets. And one upset client or customer caused the major PR disaster. So you walk a very dangerous line when you start trying to manipulate your audience.

And you can get into situations like Facebook have, who were carrying out psychological experiments on their user, where they got called up in front of Congress over this. It can be an enormous problem. But probably, the biggest reason to avoid these kinds of manipulative techniques is buyer's remorse.

Because buyer's remorse costs your business a lot more than you think it does. So let me give you a real world example of this. I worked with an e-commerce brand that sold consumer electronics. And one of their biggest sellers was a kettle, not exactly the most exciting thing in the world, but it was their lead product.

And the ECOM team was under increasing pressure to improve their conversion rate or average order value I think it was year on year. Every year, they were expected to increase it more and more and more. And of course, that gets harder and harder to do over time. So they started turning to dark patterns to do this.

And one of dark patterns that they employed was automatically adding kettle filters, this kettle had filters to stop limescale building up or whatever. And they would automatically add someone to the basket, right? And of course, people are lazy, and they don't pay attention because they rely on system one, right?

And so as a result, they would miss that, and end up paying more than they thought because they're getting these kettle filters as well. And of course, they were brand kettle filters that were overpriced compared to the off-brand ones that you could pick up on Amazon. So when I came in and I started working with them, I kind of flagged this as a potential issue, and they said, yes, it was very successful, we managed to increase our order value quite considerably.

But as I began to investigate, I found out that there were consequences to that. And this happens all the time that when you manipulate a customer into doing something, they're obviously not happy when they eventually realize they've been tricked or manipulated. And that leads to hidden costs. So the UX or ECOM team or whatever you want to to call them, they were happy because they'd improve their conversion rate or average order value.

So they were over the moon. But they weren't communicating with the rest of the business very well. And so you had the marketing department that were actually finding it, their marketing costs were going up, they were having to do a lot more in order to win new customers.

And when you did a little bit of a search online, you found out why the existing customers were moaning about the company, and about their manipulative techniques, etcetera. So there was a hidden cost there of an increased marketing cost. Add to that, there were also a lot of people ringing up support and going, well, hang on a minute, I didn't order these filters.

Why have I been charged for these filters? Now, the irony there is that every time somebody called the call center, it was costing £3.62 as I remember, okay? The profit margin on the filters was considerably less than that, right? So they were actually losing money as a company because so many people were calling up saying, hang on a minute, I didn't order these filters, I don't want these filters.

And then of course, they have to be returned to restocked. And so the number of returns was increasing and the administration of all of that. So as you can see, this kind of manipulation can really backfire on you if you're not careful. So all of that was really a very long disclaimer, okay?

But hopefully, it's a disclaimer that it's worthwhile to you, because the chances are you come across people that wanna do this kind of manipulative stuff. And now, you've got a little bit of an argument to take to them as to why they shouldn't do it, that is more than, well, it's just wrong, okay?

So I'm hoping you feel in a better position to handle that kind of stuff. But you wanna create sites for your clients and your stakeholders that do allow people to increase conversion, right? It does encourage action. So what different psychological methods can you use if you can't play off of scarcity, if you can add things to people shopping baskets, and all this stuff?

What can you do that makes a difference? And these four psychological principles are the ones that we're gonna be carrying through for the rest of this course.

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