Dark Patterns

Normally, a UI/UX designer strives to convey the best possible understandable design. But where there is light, there is also shadow. There is another way to entice visitors to take action. The Dark Patterns Design.

In contrast to normal UI DESIGN and UX DESIGN, "Dark Patterns" is the common paraphrase of bad interface design that is intentionally designed to be user-unfriendly. Here, psychological tricks are used to persuade the user to perform an action that they do not intend. This can be a purchase or registration, for example. In this case, the misleading of the user is intentional and deliberately brought about.

Functionality of Dark Patterns

"Dark patterns belong to the group of so-called anti-patterns. Their goal is to mislead the user and lead him or her to an unintended action. In order to even get that far, users are manipulated with the help of psychological behaviour patterns and sophisticated tricks. Examples of this are cleverly placed buttons or misleading drop-down menus. Large companies in particular, such as AMAZON, Facebook or Ryanair, cleverly exploit dark patterns for their own purposes.



The term "dark pattern" was first used ten years ago. It was invented and coined by Harry Brignull, a web designer and user experience specialist who founded the site darkpatterns.org. On his "Hall of Shame" he presents collected tweets with examples of "dark patterns" from everyday life under the hashtag #darkpattern.


In addition, Harry Brignull lists a wide variety of dark pattern types. One example is the "privacy sugar ring" named after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Through deliberately confusing formulations and interfaces, it is intended to tempt users to disclose more information about themselves than they would actually like. This is exactly what has been happening for years thanks to the confusing privacy settings of social media.

Examples for Dark Patterns

A well-known example of a "dark pattern" are unintentional Newsletter subscriptions. In a user-friendly interface, you would check a box yourself if you wanted to subscribe to the newsletter. "Dark patterns, on the other hand, imply that you want something and require you to check a box when you do NOT.

More examples of "dark patterns" that everyone has probably fallen for at some point:

  • Spam emails that look like unread emails, so that you are tempted to click on them.
  • Advertisements that are disguised as normal content and thus motivate the user to click on them.
  • Confusing and almost impenetrable privacy settings in social networks like Facebook & Co.
  • Double negatives when subscribing to the newsletter: "If you do not wish to subscribe to our newsletter, please tick the box".
  • Unsolicited information boxes that say in red alert colour: "Only two rooms left! Book quickly!". An artificial urgency is created here to stress the user and tempt them to make a hasty decision
  • Confusing cookie setting options: Colouring can be misleading, as colours suggest an active choice to the viewer - but in the following example, the "active" status is greyed out


Consequences for companies

Dark patterns are about selling as much as possible or collecting as much data as possible. "Dark patterns therefore serve the company and its offer, but not the user.

However, the effects of the use of dark patterns do not only apply to the big players in the World Wide Web - every website, no matter how small, is affected. The use of dark patterns in favour of a better conversion rate will always lead to a negative reputation and leave customers with a bad feeling. In the worst case, they will then turn to the competition. From a search engine optimisation point of view, such a process may even be positive at first glance, because it increases conversions and actions on the website. However, pages that use fraudulent formats are often heavily penalised by google, so that visibility decreases in the medium to long term.

Furthermore, it is essential to realise that "dark patterns" often violate applicable law or are at least in a legal grey zone. The use of "dark patterns" is certainly not a sustainable business practice.


Excellent design - and the good jobs that come with it - are a matter of empathy towards fellow human beings and customers. In the long run, websites that value their visitors, provide sufficient information and satisfy needs transparently are always more successful than websites that use questionable actions. Even if measures like dark patterns lead to short-term success, websites and companies do not benefit from their use in the long run. A logical, target group-specific and transparent design is therefore always preferable!



As a digital agency, we are happy to help you with questions about Dark Patterns!

Similar articles

Find the following customer projects on this or similar topics

Facebook's Achilles' heel
SEO Basics
UX Design