Dark Patterns: evil UX that tricks users into doing what you want

UX is a tool, a drug, a craft – it can be used for good and for evil.

The evil bit sucks, and this article (below) gave me such rage today because it reminded me of all the evil things that can be done using magical UX powers. It’s a great read, and links off to a great site where you can dob in evil asshole sites and companies who do evil asshole things.

A paraphrased excerpt:

Imagine you’re operations director for an NHS hospital in the UK. Imagine you’ve got three kids and a big mortgage. This job is everything to you. So how would you react when your boss says to you that you have to cut wait times to under 5 minutes per patient or you’re fired. Just think about this for a moment. You’ve got no spare capital, no spare staff time, no way to stretch your resources. How can you possibly do this?

Well here’s a little idea. How about you create a job role for a nurse where their job is simply to say hello to new patients. Nothing more. That way the patients are seen to, that way the wait time problem is solved. You get to keep your job. Sounds devious – but this really happened throughout the NHS in the 90s.

After about 5 years, the NHS realised what they’d done. An NHS spokesperson admitted in the British Medical Journal that: “We shouldn’t just count things that are easily counted – but provide meaningful data about the quality and effectiveness of treatment in the NHS.”

They hit their targets – they did their jobs – and it looked good on paper; but in reality they created a cheaper, nastier experience. In other words, they created a Dark Pattern.

To put it another way, Dark Patterns are often conversion rate optimisation projects that have gone wrong because of an unhealthy working environment.

Thanks, @niaalist, for the link!

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