User Research’s Battle Against Dark UX

How Democratization of Insights and Continuous Discovery Take on the Top Dark UX Patterns

As digital products become more complex and the amount of user data available to companies grows, so does the need for researchers who are skilled in designing and conducting user research. However, even though the use of user research for improving customer experience through Continuous Discovery becomes more popular, some companies are turning to dark UX tactics to get the answers they want. As a result, some customer experiences are built with dark UX patterns.

Dark UX refers to unethical user research practices that violate users’ trust and privacy. One must note that bad UX is not necessarily dark UX, and UX researchers and designers have to find ways to ensure that such tactics are not used when they gather user data.

What is Dark UX?

Bad UX can be generally described as any design or user experience that is intentionally hidden, difficult to use, or just plain unappealing. It can be found in everything from app design to website layout. Bad UX often takes the form of hidden menus, confusing buttons, or other elements that are difficult to find or use.

So, What’s the difference between dark UX and a simply bad UX?

Dark UX is a type of user experience that is designed to deceive users. It is often used to manipulate people into doing something they may not want to do, such as signing up for a subscription or buying a product. Dark UX is commonly found on malicious and shady websites and apps.

Bad UX, on the other hand, simply refers to unsatisfactory user experience. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as confusing or poorly designed interfaces, slow loading times, and difficult-to-use features. Bad UX can make it difficult for users to accomplish what they want to do. It can ruin customer experience, harm brand image and loyalty, and lead to incomplete transactions, such as abandoned shopping carts.

Dark UX Examples

While Dark UX can help you get users to do what you want, it’s important to remember that it is still bad UX. Dark UX is manipulative, and relies on users not being fully aware of what’s going on. This can often lead to frustration and a feeling of being out of control. Once a customer notices any of the signs of dark UX, you may lose your trust.

However, not all companies that utilize dark UX practices intend to do so. One way to keep your company from applying such techniques is to recognize examples. Below are some dark UX examples to avoid.


This design element is easy to choose or enter, but once you are in, the user finds it difficult to leave or cancel because it takes the user through a series of seemingly never-ending steps or repetitive loops.

Confirm Shaming

You’ve seen this before when you are cancelling or choosing not to continue a particular service. It uses manipulative language to induce guilt or shame in the user for not confirming or continuing a service. 

Hidden Costs or Fees

This design element hides hidden costs or fees when a user browses a product, but the fees suddenly appear when you checking out the items in your online shopping cart.

Bait and Switch

A lot of social media pages use this. They use different data or information that lines up with the interest of users, but when they click on a link, they are forwarded to another page or presented with a set of information totally different from what they are expecting.

Disguised Ads

Ads are used to look like interesting or useful content and use a user interface that has a deceptive call-to-action (CTA). 

Forced Continuity

The website promises a free trial but requires credit card information once the user enters the site, and cannot cancel until the user continues the offer.

Dark UX in the News

Dark UX is a hot topic in the news and on social media. It’s been in the spotlight lately, with reports of shady business practices and data misuse going around. As a result, people are starting to become more concerned about how their data could used.

It is the responsibility of designers and researchers to make sure that their work is ethical and user-friendly. Dark UX should be avoided at all costs, as it can be harmful to both users and businesses.

In California, the local government is banning companies from using dark UX patterns. The California Consumer Privacy Act prevents companies from using dark patterns that deceives users into selling their information in their website design. California is the first state to ban dark UX patterns, and companies found using these dark UX patterns will need to pay civil penalties relating to unfair competition.

User-First Designs to Combat Dark UX

Dark UX has been on the rise for a few years now, and governments have been quite slow in responding to these consumer issues arising from companies using dark UX patterns.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat dark UX. It is important for companies to put users first. When website design is easy to understand and use, users always know what they’re doing.

Businesses and website owners can also take the initiative to help users become aware of the different techniques used in dark UX so they can be wary of it when they see it online. Here are some strategies designers and researchers can use to fight against dark UX.

Follow strict design practice standards and ethical design process

Designers have a responsibility to their clients, users, and themselves to uphold high design practice standards and follow an ethical design process. By doing so, they create trustworthy, meaningful, and user-friendly designs that meet the needs of all stakeholders. Here are some things to remember when designing ethically:

  • Consider the user first and foremost
  • Ensure that the design will not cause any harm to the user
  • Respect the privacy of users
  • Think about the consequences of your design

Focus on user experience over the number of visitors and subscriptions

When you focus on creating great content and an excellent user experience, you will naturally attract more visitors and subscribers. It’s more important to focus on providing value and meeting the needs of your audience than on chasing numbers. When you provide quality content, people will want to come back for more, and they will be more likely to share your content with others.

Conduct extensive user research to find out user expectations

One of the most important steps in creating successful user experiences is understanding user expectations. Continuous discovery, along with democratization, allows researchers to build design cultures that are led by informed insights and focus on establishing great customer experiences.

Moreover, you can conduct extensive user research to find out what users want and need from your product or service. This information can help you create designs and features that favor the user’s interests.

User research can be conducted in a variety of ways, including interviews, focus groups, surveys, and usability tests. By gathering feedback from real users, you can get a better understanding of their needs and desires. This information can help you create a more successful product or service.

Good Design and Research Can Overcome Dark UX

Dark UX can seem prevalent online, but extensive UX research and the use of continuous discovery methodology can combat the dominance of dark patterns. Democratization of insights is a positive force in the fight against dark UX, since democratization focuses on user experience.

As user research becomes more accessible across teams through tools like WEVO, the tension between widening access to gathering and delivering insights with integrity is greater than ever. This begs the question, is the democratization of insights good or evil?

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