Creative Digital Media

History is recorded moments in life. People’s thoughts, either great among others or just great in their own shadow. Every glimpse of life at that just moment, deserves to be treasured. So just “Keep That Thought”…

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

What does the Dark Pattern mean? It’s a series of “devices” and techniques aimed at making user do something simply manipulating his/her actions. To some extent these techniques are deceptive…but who we are to blame someone for using them.

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

Since our birth we’ve been using “deceptive” techniques to get sweets, cookies and other tasty stuff, with age our methods of psychological influence became more and more advanced…we started manipulating not only our family members but our friends and people around. Some of us use similar methods in their work-a-day activity, and there are hundreds of professions where these deceptive techniques are adopted…no need to refer their names, the guilty themselves will understand of whom we are talking…:)

Normally we think of bad design as consisting of laziness, mistakes, or some errors. However, there’s another kind of bad design pattern, one that’s been crafted with great attention to detail, and a solid understanding of human psychology, to trick users to do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done.

These are the most common examples of Black Hat UI tricks we may see day after day:


Road Blocks

This is what those annoying Ads at the bottom or at the top of the videos can be seen. This is what really frustrates YouTube users. Whether you want it or not you’ll have to couple seconds of those ads, luckily there is a “Skip Ad” button or a savior cross, but it’s so tiny that unwillingly, 6 times out of ten, you will press the Ad, especially if you are watching video via your tablet of smarphone.

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns


UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns


UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

  • Search engines index page as they are. For example if you have a page: to the left there is navigation in the frame to the right the article about rabbits and livestock. Assume that user is looking for rabbits and livestock. Among the references there is yours that refers to the article. Search engine shows user the article but the frame with navigation is not reflected. So where will your visitor go after reading the article if he does not see the navigation? Elsewhere and that’s all, you’ve lost him/her.
  • Frames are confusing. Which URL to send a friend? How to add something to the favorites? Will the right mouse button help? When more than two frames, users does not understand what will happen when click here or there.
  • In some cases the use of frames, explains the “necessity” to show user some elements page a page like banner or navigation. Frames are a thorn in the eye of the user… So why do we need to distract him/her?
  • If the user is a low resolution screen, scroll bars will appear and it hinders navigation. If scrolling is prohibited, you will not see half of the page. JavaScripts can be used to automatically (by force) load the frame if it is not opened.

How to justify the use of frames? They say that the frame-loading page without overloading some of the frames we download less files, so the speed of information download is reduced. A really controversial statement.

Where frames are must use. In cases where small space needs to accommodate lots of info. For example, you need to insert large text without stylizing(license agreement, etc).

Forced Disclosure

There are various systems throughout the web that require from the user the so-called forced disclosure. This process presumes entry of data that is unnecessary for the operation.

Here is an example: When you apply for a job using Yahoo Hotjob’s own application system, you are required to fill in profile information (shown below), including name, email, location, job category, work authorization, etc). This is not strictly necessary as all the information needed for your job application is contained within your cover letter and resume.

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

When you click “continue”, your profile information is automatically published, allowing headhunters to find your information in their resume database. There is no means of opting out during the process – the user has to afterwards go to the “My Resumes” section, then click “Make all of my resumes unsearchable”.

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

Systems that ask for email/twitter credentials

There are numerous resources on the web that asks for your twitter or email credentials to log on t the website. Basically this process eases the process of registration since all your credentials are copied and there is no need to enter them manually. Also there is one minus in large con in these systems they send out bulk messages using your account – i.e. from you (as if they are truing to find your friends who are already using this service). This is technique is commonly used by viruses – but even well-known companies sometimes engage in “friend spam”.

Bates for Users

The principle is old as the hills, user gets attracted by one thing but are opted to do a different, undesirable thing instead. Have a look at the screenshot of the home page of the following website:

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

Website seems to be really trustworthy but nevertheless it hides in itself lots of deceptions for the applicant. Let’s have a closer look. What’s the first thing that grabs you attention you see the home page, of cource it’s a big fat number 50k+. Seeing it the brain of the user automatically shuts down and he’s ready to do anything to get the promised 50k+ job…But what’s next?

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

User is offered to opt in just 30 seconds…with shaking hands and anticipation of a 50k job he/she fills in the form, but that’s not all, yet! Now he needs to create an online CV, doing he gets into the log on area where the magical 50k job search appears. But, what ta…?! If you press any of the results you get you are redirected to the page that offers you to UPGRADE!!!

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

This is a total disappointment!


Here is a similar project for job applicants. At a first glance, nothing foretells the trouble…

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

The word FREE on the front page baffles users, after completing all steps we will see the following…

UI Wars: Episode 28807 – Attack of the Dark Patterns

Just like it was described in the previous example.

The bait is swallowed, users create their accounts within these systems, I wonder how many of them have paid premium membership fee?


Here is a great slideshow created by Harry Brignull. It’s dedicated to Black Hat UI techniques; feel free to check it out, to be aware of the possible baits you may get into.

Can you think of any good, contemporary examples to go with this list? Add your suggestions in the comments below.

To be clear, I’m not looking for outright scams (which are clumsy and easy to identify), I’m looking for techniques used by above-board products and services that trick users into doing things.


Written by Alex

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This entry was posted on September 25, 2012 by in Informative and tagged , , .