The Dark Side of UX

The Dark Side of UX

Does UX have the power to manipulate and deceive?

It does. And we must use our powers for good. Let me explain…

I recently was the victim of a dark user experience designed to scam. This went as follows:

As a Dutchman, I travel to The Netherlands quite frequently and, in true Dutch fashion, I like to do this as cheaply as possible.

Ryanair, Europe’s no thrills airline, to the rescue! So you do what you do nowadays and google ‘Ryanair Eindhoven’ to get to the right part of the website.

Results come up and first one is for www.ryanair…I click and onto the site. The look and feel, the way the page was organized confirmed that I was on the Ryanair site, although I did notice that it seemingly had undergone a bit of a refresh. Nice, I still remember thinking. On with the booking, I quickly made all the selections and reached the check-out.

This is where I noticed that there was something wrong. I was charged a substantial booking fee, something that was not made clear from the start and something that European airlines are not allowed to do. But this wasn’t the Ryanair airlines site, this was www.ryanair.edreams.com.

By this time I was too far into the process to return and paid anyway. Call it lazy if you like.

The above is an example of a dark design pattern. I have come across these before but usually there is something sneaky about it. Unfortunately for Ryanair, they have been a prime example for years for the way in which they tricked customers by asking for their nationality at a time you would expect to give your nationality, whereas in fact you are opting to buy travel insurance. Nasty and deliberately designed to confuse. And yes, in case you are wondering, this has happened to me too, only once though, and I still come back because their flights are cheap.

The edreams scam is different. It is a nice clean website that simply abuses one of the two core pillars of good UX: familiarity (the other one is findability). Familiarity allows us to use things we have never used before simply because we have used something similar before. This is true for everything around us. The shape of a door handle, with its visual affordances, allows us to predict cause and effect or in simpler words, how we should use it. On websites and applications, the so called design pattern of a whole page re-inforced by a colour scheme, communicate the functionality and affiliation, and this is what fooled me.

Apparently I am not the only one who got caught. I know quite a few people who fell for the same scam so you do not need a PhD to fall for this. More telling is the fact that Ryanair has launched legal action against Google for promoting misleading ads of dreams. A bit rich from Ryanair if you ask me but it does demonstrate that something as simple as a UX pattern-based scam can be quite a lucrative business. In essence it clearly highlights the power of good UX. Use the design patterns that users are familiar with and you create a system so easy to use that it helps users achieve what they need to achieve without really needing to think about it (good or bad). I just would like to see more good examples out there.

Dr. Leo Poll is President of Akendi UK. A firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design, to learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.co.uk

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