Deceptive Patterns: A Must-Know Concept For UX Designers

Deceptive Patterns: A Must-Know Concept For UX Designers

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Have you guys ever signed up for a free trial but later found out that your credit card was charged? Also, there was no way to cancel the membership? Or maybe you signed up for a newsletter, not knowing that you also signed up for some more similar newsletters. Don't worry, this happens to everyone! Generally, these experiences are examples of deceptive patterns.

"Deceptive patterns" trick users into unintentionally consenting to something online. They include a range of visual, interactive, audio, or motion elements that are added to the designs of any digital product to deceive users. In the industry, the term “dark patterns” is preferred. But most designers often use the phrase “deceptive patterns” to avoid referring to something problematic as “dark”. The word “deceptive” is preferred because it focuses on the tactic itself that tricks users into doing or buying something they wouldn’t have otherwise performed.

They were first exposed in 2010 by a UX designer, Harry Brignull. He listed 11 types of deceptive patterns but we will just take a look at some common deceptive patterns that you might encounter in your work as a UX designer!

1. Forced Continuity

Forced Continuity is the practice of charging a user for membership without any warning or even a reminder. Let's go back to the first line of this article. You signed up for a free trial but later found out that your credit card was charged and there was no simple way to cancel the membership. Let me say it out loud for the people in the back:

Hey you! Yes, you! As a UX designer, you should be upfront and transparent with users.

How to avoid this malpractice?

• Notify users before their free trial ends and they are about to be charged.

• Make the cancellation of their membership easy.

• Provide a link and a guide to help users through the cancellation process.

• Always make sure that the visual elements in your designs such as buttons, icons, logos, etc are labeled clearly.

2. Scarcity

This is when a website or online platform makes users "very aware" of the limited number of items in stock. By very aware, I mean those annoying banners or whatever on top of an item stating only "n number of items left in stock". This type of action is usually followed by a popup message that urges the user to make a purchase before it's "too late".

While designing, do think about what users need to know about a purchase that they are going to make. Also, note if scarcity is being used to urge a user to make an impulse purchase or if it is meant to inform users of the availability of a product. If the former, then avoid it. Designers should inform the users, not deceive them.

3. Hidden costs

Sometimes you might notice that the amount of total cost is a little suspicious but you let it go thinking that maybe you made a mistake. But no, 80% of the time you don't. This is when hidden or perhaps unexpected charges in your cart are not revealed until the very end of the checkout process. For example, you are buying a book from somewhere and there was no mention of delivery fees anywhere. But at the end of checkout, you find out there are additional fees for delivery and also some taxes that were not mentioned before! Digital platforms or websites often add these hidden costs thinking that users will be too tired to find another site with cheaper products.

Moreover, they would unwilling to go through the entire checkout process again elsewhere. They think right though. If I go through a long checkout process and find out those hidden costs, I'll just let it go because I definitely wouldn't perform such a long process again. Hey future UX Designers! Here's your time to shine, be sure to give users all pricing-related information upfront, and be a good UX designer. You can include a calculator or all costs such as shipping, taxes and item cost so everything will be transparent to the user.

4. Sneak into basket

As the name suggests, it is actually a very sneaky method. While doing some online shopping you might notice that there is an extra item in your cart that you didn't add. Or when applying for membership of some service, some options are already checked. Unchecking or removing items are some extra steps that most people generally miss.

Make sure that no boxes or plans or whatever is not pre-selected. You are the designer, not the buyer! So, let the users make their own choice. Don't give them such bad surprises.

5. Confirmshaming

Confirmshaming is when the users are made to feel guilty when they opt out of something. For example, when a user is attempting to make a choice and the popups are trying to make them feel guilty about their choice. These are added in hopes that users will choose what they want. While designing, do not add visuals, buttons, icons, or anything to manipulate the emotions of the user. Remember, the very concept of UX is based on the happiness of the user!

6. Urgency

Sometimes you might open some websites to buy some items. For example, you wanna take a look at the latest winter collection of your favorite brand. Suddenly there's a pop up somewhere on the page "Buy this item at half price for the next hour, hurry before the offer runs out!"

You don't feel anything wrong with it, right? Maybe because it's so common? It's time to open your eyes people. You are being deceived yet again! This is another deceptive pattern known as "urgency". Users are convinced to purchase an item before they run out of time and miss the current “awesome” price. The goal of doing so is to rush the user into making a decision, to purchase an item in a limited amount of time or they'll miss out on an amazing offer.

This concept is not just about offers and deals that are limited. It is also about adding increased pressure on the user so they make a purchase quickly. An ethical designer is a good designer, so make sure you aren't making use of "urgency" in your designs.


As a UX designer, you can help prevent these deceptive patterns just by being aware of them. When you are able to recognize them, you'll also be able to correct them. Always remember that deceptive patterns are unethical and should be avoided at all costs! If you are clear and honest with your users, your behavior will end up strengthening their trust in your brand or product!

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