You may not know what dark patterns are yet, but we are sure you have seen them when browsing websites or apps.

In short, a dark pattern is a user interface that makes you do things (that you otherwise won’t do) for its own benefit.

One example is when a website intentionally hides additional fees (e.g. shipping fees, taxes, or subscription renewals) until you are further along in the checkout process.

Let’s dig deeper and get to know more about dark patterns.

What are Dark Patterns?

Dark patterns are certain “tricks” used by the design of a layout to make users do a certain thing or direct them away from it. This could be forcing a customer to put in their information or making it difficult for them to unsubscribe from a service. It is an anti-consumer practice utilized by some companies to trick their audience into doing favorable things for themselves.

The term “Dark Pattern” was coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based UX designer, in 2010. He runs the website (formerly known as where he showed real-life examples of Dark Patterns.

Why Dark Patterns are Used

The answer is simple – quick money. By running dark patterns, they can trick a percentage of their audience to put in their information or make them pay for unwanted purchases. Although not viable for long-term growth, this is commonly used by websites that want to make some quick cash and enjoy their 15 seconds of fame.

A lot of big, established companies are also known to use these tactics when faced with deadlines. Also, it is more common for UX designers to work under growth-focused managers, who do not understand that long-term growth takes time. To satisfy their demands, a lot of designers resort to dark patterns for a quick short-term boost.

Do Dark Patterns Work?

Yes, they do to some extent. That’s why they are heavily practiced today.

Since you now know what dark patterns are, can you easily avoid them?

The answer is not so simple.

We are constantly bombarded with a lot of information and ads today. So, when our minds are weary and vulnerable after long exposure to such ads, we can fall for them anytime, anywhere! 

14 Common Dark Pattern Tricks

Here are 12 common tactics a lot of websites use to trick users in order to get their information or money. Most websites that utilize these tricks often use a combination of them.

Disguised ads

Disguised ads are designed in a way that makes the user feel like it is part of the website. They have a prompt that makes it feel like it has the button that a visitor needs to press in order to proceed with their action. Most of the time, they are disguised as the host site’s call to action (CTA) button.

Disguised ads

Here, the green “download” button presented in the middle is NOT the button to press the download the desired software, but you cannot blame anyone for thinking otherwise.

Roach Motel

The roach motel design makes it very easy to subscribe to a service but makes it very difficult to opt out of it when you want to. This is very common among paid subscription services. This dark pattern method is named after a product of the same name that is designed to lure in roaches and trap them inside it.

Roach Motel

If you go to the New York Times website, you will notice that one of the top prompts presented for you is their subscription plan. If you click on it, you will realize that everything is laid out for you perfectly to subscribe to their service.

New York Times website

Now if you decide to unsubscribe from their services after putting in your information, it will be a whole other story. To do that, you have to first contact a representative and tell them you want to cancel. In order to get in contact with one, you will need to get into a queue that can last several minutes.

Once connected, you will need to explain to them why you want to cancel. After that, your request will be pending. It can take a while for your request to go through. If your subscription is not canceled within a reasonable amount of time, you will need to contact them again.

Bait & Switch

In this dark pattern method, the website “baits” a user with something they might want, like a high-demand product or an attractive discount, but redirects them into something of less value or higher price. 

A lot of e-commerce sites do this where they display a highly sought-after product on the homepage, and when you click on it, they show something else because the thing you wanted is “out of stock”.

Microsoft got into controversy using this method, with a popup asking users who were on older OS to upgrade to Windows 10. When clicking on the “x” button, instead of closing the popup like it usually should, it started the upgrade, which caused a lot of problems for a lot of users. Users understandably accused Microsoft of playing “a nasty trick.”

Bait & Switch

Privacy Zuckering

When a website is designed such that it makes the user share more information with the website than what is needed, it is known as privacy zuckering. This term was named after Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, in reference to the early days of Facebook. Back then, Facebook was designed such that it made it seem like a user needed to share more personal information than they wanted to.

It is difficult nowadays to prevent privacy zuckering as signing up for most sites has terms & conditions that make one unknowingly allow sites to sell private data to data brokers. We would suggest reading T&Cs if you want to avoid your information being sold by companies.

Confirm Shaming

Confirm shaming is using manipulative language and imagery to create guilt or shame among a user to make them feel compelled to do the activity a website would want them to do. They word their non-compliance options in a way that it makes you feel like you are missing out on the biggest discount of your life. One of the most infamous examples of confirm shaming is done by Duolingo, the language learning app

The Duolingo mascot bird, Duo is known for guilt-tripping users if they are not active on the app. They will do things like emailing you Duo being sad and the app itself melting to get your attention.

Confirm Shaming
Duolingo logo

However, while confirm shaming is a dark pattern that you should avoid implementing for your business, Duolingo gets a pass using this method because it wants to encourage you to take your daily lessons to help you learn the language you signed up for.

It is not okay when such tactics are used to entice customers to give their contact information or to make them buy something.


The act of bombarding a user with constant popups and CTAs is an annoying thing known as nagging. It can also be used to delay confirmation of anything instead of giving the user to decline entirely, with messaging like “Not now” and “Maybe later”.

Sometimes, some websites will autoplay audio or video to further annoy the visitor to take action to benefit it.

The mobile app of X (formerly known as Twitter) is guilty of this. If you keep notifications turned off for any reason, they will constantly notify you in the app to turn notifications on. There is no way to turn off this one notification, you can only set it such that you see it less often. This is one of many annoyances you will face using the app.

notifications turned

Forced action

Forced action is where the website or app is designed in such a way that a user feels forced to do something for the website before they can get to their intended action.

A lot of websites grey out their website to prevent a visitor from doing anything, allowing them access usually after forcing them to create and sign in to their account.

LinkedIn faced backlash a while ago for using this tactic. After opening an account, one of the first screens you are presented with is the following.

Grow linkedin network

At first glance, it will seem like the only way to go on to continue using the site is to provide your email address. The way it is designed, most people will not notice the “skip this step” option presented outside the box, which is made to be unnoticeable intentionally.

A lot of people fell for this trick which made people vocal against it. You can learn more about LinkedIn’s dark pattern in this article by Dan Schlosser.

Forced Continuity

Forced continuity is a dark pattern where if you have put in your credit card information to any subscription-based service, especially for a free trial, they will charge you as soon as your trial period is over. This is often done with no confirmation or warning, causing a lot of users to get billed unexpectedly.

Big streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ employ this tactic.

Tricky Wording and Misdirection

Trick questions are confusingly worded website copies or questions that can make customers agree to unintended actions. These include phrasing questions in unusual ways that make even yes or no questions difficult to understand. 

Tricky Wording and Misdirection

Take a look at this example of Sky iD. Normally a user can opt-in to email to email services by selecting the tickboxes. However, they have worded it in such a way that you have to click to opt OUT of receiving such promotions. This is not how this process usually goes and Sky iD tricks viewers into getting more promotional emails.

Basket Sneaking

This is where instead of suggesting to the user about recommended products, the website sneaks a product into the cart of a visitor in hopes they do not notice it and pay for it unknowingly. 

This is common among products and services that can have add-ons with them. Usually, there will be already ticked boxes during checkout which you will need to find and untick yourself.

Hidden Costs

Hidden costs are the money charged from a customer that had not been explicitly stated to them. You will proceed as usual with your shopping, adding things to your cart as you go on. But once you get to checkout, you will find things like “service charge” or other costs added that had not been explicitly told to you beforehand.

Friend Spam

Some websites and web apps will gather your contact information and spam your friends about their programs. They will usually use tricky wording to convince you to share your contact info and then proceed to email or message everyone in your contacts about them, which could include people like your friends to your work boss. They are even known to pose as you as they do this.

A lot of mobile games will offer in-game currencies to “share” the game on social media. They will not outright tell you what they will be doing with the account contacts but use vague words instead. Once you give them your account info, they will message every single person on your list posing as you to try out your game.

Price Comparison Prevention

It is currently a standard practice among a lot of e-commerce websites to allow the customer to compare similar products with each other to make an informed decision. If the site does not provide such a feature and makes it difficult to do so instead, it is a dark pattern of price comparison prevention.

Evoking FOMO

A lot of e-commerce sites will create fake urgency out of products to evoke their FOMO in hopes of getting an impulse buy out of them. They will display available stocks or limited time slots for availability so that customers will feel like they need to get it right then. 

Shady sites will show false stock numbers to trick customers into buying their products. They will even show things like a countdown or other customers buying the product in real time.

e-commerce sites

Amazon does this regularly where they show the countdown for how long a deal is available. This prompts visitors to get the product right away.

Why Avoid Dark Patterns

Dark patterns seem like a quick way of making a few conversions in a very short time. However, if you are looking to grow your business for the long term, we suggest you avoid it. Here are some reasons why you should not implement dark patterns for your website.

Ruins user experience

88% of customers will not return to a website if they have a bad experience there. And being deceived will definitely not make a user happy. This will cause you to lose a lot of potential loyal customers who could make your business sustainable in the long run.

Hurts brand image

If customers experience dark patterns on your website, they will spread negative word of mouth about your company, and cause harm to your brand image. This will negatively impact your growth as a company and can cause your business to even fail.

Dark patterns are illegal

There are a lot of dark patterns that have been deemed illegal in Europe and the USA. Usually, companies engaged in such methods are fined and given a 30-day period to rectify their actions. Here is a list of laws that are applicable against dark patterns.

Wrapping it up

What are Dark Patterns? We hope now you have a better understanding of dark patterns after going through this article. This should allow you to identify such tricks when you are browsing through the internet and make you understand why it is not a good idea to use them for your website.


Unless you are frustrated with deadlines to satisfy your superiors, there is no ideal situation for using dark patterns. This will give you a few conversions, but that will come with long-term detriments such as a hurt brand image and a distrustful audience. Unless you are prepared to face such consequences, it is better to avoid using them.