What are Dark Patterns

What red lines should you never cross to get the attention of your users, or their money?


Gema Gutierrez

2 years ago | 4 min read

Some years ago I heard people talking about ‘Dark Patterns’ (or maybe I read about it on Twitter).

In any case, I remember having read an article which discussed them, and which had a link to, a web site with lots of examples of misleading designs that web designers should never employ.

Dark Patterns are web interfaces designed carefully to deliberately trick users into choosing an option that they don’t really want. They are designed on purpose, to achieve the company’s objectives without taking into account ethical considerations or the user’s own needs.

It would appear that these companies don’t think that, upon employing these types of Dark Patterns, it will have a direct negative affect on both the user experience as well as the company itself.

Us designers should advocate for an honest design that should leave out any form of trickery. — Agnieszka Cieplińska Product Designer Codility

In this article, I will explain some of the more well know Dark Pattern tactics. The examples that I will share are from an interesting article on Medium that I found on the topic.

Designing a misleading onboarding process

Linkedin was sued in 2013 for using a deceptive design in its onboarding process. The company informed its users via a message situated below the main button that it would import their address book, later automatically sending an email to those contacts an invitation to join Linkedin.

Example of a Dark Pattern from Linkedin

After this, Linkedin was sentenced to pay 13 million dollars as compensation to its users for employing this so-called Dark Pattern.

Forced Continuity

Have you ever found an online service that you like and that you’ve signed up for, one which asks for your credit card information? In theory, you may think that it’s not a problem as it’s a 15-day “free trial” and you take for granted that they won’t make charges to your account without first informing you beforehand.

Once expired the free trial deadline, you find yourself with a company that has deducted a subscription fee once the free trial period has ended from your credit card.

You’d be surprised, and ultimately feel like you’ve been tricked due to not having received any notice beforehand.

This Dark Pattern occurs when your free trial with a service ends and they charge you without previous notice, or rather, without at least sending you a notification or email several days before the free trial period ends. Ethically speaking, you’d think would be the right thing to do first, wouldn’t you?


This occurs when the layout tries to make a user feel guilty about making a decision. It’s used regularly to convince a user to subscribe to a newsletter.

An example from

Sometimes they try to influence you emotionally, whereby upon selecting the option “I’m not interested” they show you messages such as “I’m not interested in gaining more insight”… “I prefer not to stay up to date on the latest”… etc.

When you think about it, this is really quite rude. Would you dare to say this someone’s face if you had them in front of you?

Pop-up window with no option to exit or close

And, keeping in mind this, I give you a clear example of this with some pop-ups which don’t allow you to close them out unless you realize the action for which they were created. A clear example of this is the website of the current president of the United States.

Pop-up to option to exit or close it out

Notice that you can only click on the CTA (the button) to “Contribute Now”; there’s no other possible way out! This tactic is also considered a Dark Pattern. Upon taking a deeper look you’ll notice this website is full of them, for which I recommend you watch the videos in which UX Designer Mary Formanek explains them in detail.

The red line for online businesses

For designer Jose Luis Antúnez it’s clear where to draw that red line which one should never, never cross in order to gain money or attention from your users.

He claims that we should always ask ourselves the following questions during the UX design process:

  1. What is the company interested in?
  2. What is the user interested in? When you’ve aligned the interests from both the first and second questions, you then ask yourself this third question.
  3. If we design in this way, is that what the user is expecting? Will he/she understand it clearly? And would you design it this way if you designing it for your loved ones?

If your answer is yes, then you’re doing it well. The user has priority from the third question onward.

Closing out this article, I suggest you read this article from Xataka (Spanish), one which you’ll want to keep as a future reference, in which the designer Inma Bermejo says that the lack of ethics among some companies using Dark Patterns will sooner or later only come back to hurt them.

They may be able to trick you a certain number of times, but it won’t last forever. As time goes on, it will end up having a negative impact on the company’s business, like in the example of Linkedin which I previously covered.


Created by

Gema Gutierrez

I am a highly motivated and experienced UX Designer willing to create digital products. I have a ten-year background in innovative user experiences for mobile and web applications. In 2017 I made a change in my professional career towards the world of entrepreneurship.







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