Dark patterns may sound like something from a Harry Potter book or indeed a skill you might require if you lived within J.R.R. Tolkien’s world, but they are sadly grounded in reality and are likely to be something familiar to you as a user, whether you know them by this name or not. They lead to a poor customer experience and now a number of dark patterns pertaining to e-commerce have been made illegal following recent changes to EU legislation.
Dark patterns is a term coined to describe the practice of using user interface (UI) design to knowingly mislead or confuse the user into actioning something that they neither requested or often wanted. This is different to unintended confusion or harmless frustration caused by poor UI design – this type of behaviour is known as an anti-pattern. Obviously neither of these practices are something you’ll get when working with Dusted, but it pays to be aware of them. If a poor customer experience wasn’t enough to worry you then the legal changes should be. darkpatterns.org is a good resource to find out more about the most common dark patterns practiced on the web, however here are details of the ones that are now illegal under the EU’s Consumer Rights Directive.
It is now illegal to hide extra costs until after the user has reached the checkout. This includes things such as postage & packaging or a required subscription cost – these must now be declared before this point to avoid breaking the law. It’s acceptable to not give an exact amount (for instance if the price varies dependant on the user’s address) but you must be clear that there will be a cost added.
Sneak into basket
This behaviour is when a user visits their basket after adding something they actually wanted and finds it’s been joined by another unrequested item. Most savvy users will notice this and if it is unwanted, will remove it before continuing. Obviously the company’s aim is for it to remain in there to be purchased, but this practice is now outlawed.
This nearly always relates to a limited free trial of a product or service that requires you to sign up with payment details. If at the end of the free trial period you automatically become a paying customer without adequate notice, this is now considered illegal.
There are plenty of other dark patterns that are employed by all kinds of site – big and small – but these three are probably the most insidious of them, which explains why they have been targeted by the legislators. The Consumer Rights Directive directly affects the UK’s Consumer Rights Law which, up until the point that this new EU law came into force (June 2014), had no e-commerce specifics at all.
If you’re at all concerned about your site or if you just want to know more about dark or anti-patterns then Dusted can shed some light on these issues. Get in contact if you want to discuss how we can help you and your customers.