Transcript: Ask the UXperts: Dark Patterns and Persuasive Design — with Ben Tollady

Transcript: Ask the UXperts: Dark Patterns and Persuasive Design — with Ben Tollady

Ben Tollady
Summary:

Ben Tollady of Thirst Studios joined us on Slack in the latest of our Ask the UXperts sessions. We talked about dark patterns and how we can use persuasive design for good, not bad.

If you missed out on the live chat, never fear – here is the transcript.

Our friend Ben Tollady joined us in our Slack channel yesterday for a chat about that subject that fascinates all of us – dark patterns.

It was quite a different session from the usual ones we host, in that it began with something of a debate about what qualifies a dark pattern vs. clever design. It was really interesting to see where people stood on the spectrum of ‘what’s ok’.

We rounded out a great session with discussions on psychology resources, habit forming technology, and managing the expectations of stakeholders that push for unethical design patterns.

If you didn’t make the session because you didn’t know about it, make sure you join our community to get updates of upcoming sessions. If you have follow up questions for Ben, you can ask them here.

If you’re interested in seeing what we discussed, or you want to revisit your own questions, here is a full transcript of the chat.

Transcript

hawk
2016-11-09 23:00
Ok all, let’s get this show on the road.

jen
2016-11-09 23:00
Hi @hawk looking forward to this

hawk
2016-11-09 23:00
For those of you that are new to these sessions, here is how they roll

hawk
2016-11-09 23:00
I’ll intro @ben then he will intro the topic.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:00
Then I’ll throw it over to you guys to ask your questions.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:00
It’s a casual, relaxed format.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:01
When you have a question, ask away. I’ll queue them in a back channel for Ben to roll through.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:01
I’ll publish the full transcript up on http://uxmastery.com tomorrow

hawk
2016-11-09 23:01

lauggh
2016-11-09 23:01
has joined #ask-ben-tollady

michalkosecki
2016-11-09 23:02
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hawk
2016-11-09 23:02
Ben is a long time friend of ours and he’s responsible for http://thirststudios.com/

hawk
2016-11-09 23:03
He comes from an industrial design background and has worked in UX and interaction design for over a decade in both the UK and Australia.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:03
He and a colleague presented on dark patterns at UXNZ last month and it was an enjoyable session

hawk
2016-11-09 23:03
So I decided to lure him here to our Slack channel to take up the conversation

hawk
2016-11-09 23:03
And here we are

hawk
2016-11-09 23:04
So @ben – over to you for a quick intro to the topic before we jump to questions

hawk
2016-11-09 23:04
And a huge thanks for your time today

hawk
2016-11-09 23:04
I know you’re busy and it’s really appreciated

ben
2016-11-09 23:04
No problem Hawk. It’s a pleasure.

ben
2016-11-09 23:04
Hi all.

meremaines
2016-11-09 23:05
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ben
2016-11-09 23:05
So by way of a brief intro… I have been working in design for a long time (late 90’s) in both Industrial Design and Web/UX.

mat
2016-11-09 23:05
I saw your presentation at UX Australia this year

ben
2016-11-09 23:06
I’m confident in research and design and all that stuff, but recently I realised I felt as though I didn’t have enough inderstanding of the psychological site of what we do.

ben
2016-11-09 23:07
Humans and ergonomics – no problem. But what about cognitive science and the way our minds work, and how ux and design converges with that?

ben
2016-11-09 23:08
So I’ve been doing a bit of reading and researching on the subject, and put a little presentation together earlier in the year, exploring how an understanding of cognitive science can influence and persuade through design.

ben
2016-11-09 23:08
@mat Great! Hope you liked it!

ben
2016-11-09 23:09
The presentation can be seen here, in case anyone wants to have a look later.. http://www.uxnewzealand.com/speakers/ben-and-gareth/

ben
2016-11-09 23:10
It was written and presented in collaboration with my good friend and colleague Gareth Roberts (@groberts1212).

tlassit
2016-11-09 23:10
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ben
2016-11-09 23:10
So… Hit me up with any questions. I’ll do my best to answer usefully! :wink:

mat
2016-11-09 23:11
There was one bit of your preso @ UX Aus that I wasn’t convinced by. That was the cashback example. I cannot remember in granular detail but I thought it was more customer inertia rather than a true ‘dark pattern’

ben
2016-11-09 23:13
The talk focussed on Dark Patterns in particular (which are a clumsy way to trick users into doing something – usually to benefit the business behind the digital product). Our talk explored those, and then investigated that, if a business needed to ‘convince’ a user to do something (and it’s morally ethical), then could we use psychology to ‘persuade’ instead?

hawk
2016-11-09 23:14
Interestingly someone else commented on our blog today along those lines – “Apple do this on purpose to get you to buy more” – which is kinda the point. Is that ok?

ben
2016-11-09 23:15
So @mat – Yes. That example was a laptop sale by an electronics retailer in Au. On their website they offer a cashback thing where you buy it for $1700 but can get $200 back, if you photocopy the receipt, download and fill out a form, then send it back (in the post I think).

mat
2016-11-09 23:15
yes, that’s the one.

ben
2016-11-09 23:16
The point we were making with that example wasn’t that it’s a dark pattern (it’s not – it’s not trickery), It was more around how you, as a designer, can manipulate people’s motivation through an understanding of cognitive science.

mat
2016-11-09 23:16
As that is a practice that has been around forever I was wondering if it was a pattern as it could be practiced in the ‘real world’? And therefore can Dark Patterns exist outside the digital realm?

ben
2016-11-09 23:17
In this example – many people can’t be bothered to go through the hassle involved for just $200. So the retailer benefits by gaining $200 on each sale. And this isn’t an accident – they designed it that way.

mat
2016-11-09 23:17
So you think any kind of manipulation could fall into the dark patterns category?

ben
2016-11-09 23:18
If it was $1000 cashback, then the designer would have ‘motivated’ the user more, so they’d likely get more users taking up the offer (and then there’d be less sneaky profit for the retailer).

mat
2016-11-09 23:18
In that example it’s a tried and tested method of making the customer jump through hoops to gain something

mat
2016-11-09 23:18
on the assumption that most people probably won’t bother

mat
2016-11-09 23:19
yes, so the customer has to balance the effort vs gain

ben
2016-11-09 23:19
@mat Interesting question. I’m not sure exactly how all folks define Dark Patterns, but for me it’s anything that ‘tricks’ users without their best interests in mind. Tricking a user to only benefit the business.

ben
2016-11-09 23:20
(It’s evil)

mat
2016-11-09 23:20
That’s my point. I don’t think that was a dark pattern because all the information was there before the deal was made

mat
2016-11-09 23:20
it is simply customer inertia

hawk
2016-11-09 23:20
but it’s taking advantage of things we know people do or don’t do (biases)

ddt
2016-11-09 23:20
A good example of a dark pattern in the real world is really hiding the “you can’t quit unless you prove you’ve moved >50 miles from a branch of this gym chain” in gym contracts, hidden in the fine print.

ben
2016-11-09 23:21
At least with the cashback thing it’s being exposed and explained (I think fairly fully – can’t remember) up front. So while it’s cheeky, it’s not trickery. The user has a choice about engaging in the practice or not.

mat
2016-11-09 23:21
taking advantage possibly, not sure that it’s tricking though…

ddt
2016-11-09 23:22
At lot of companies make things difficult for users using some of the ways dark patterns work, though the companies may think it’s for the “good” of the user: https://medium.com/designer-hangout/shady-patterns-a55d0cc1bbc7#.eck5lq487

ben
2016-11-09 23:22
@ddt Small print is notoriously dodgy ground! Like contracts – rife with confusing legalese.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:22
Does it matter if it’s tricking or taking advantage – are either morally ok?

hawk
2016-11-09 23:23
(playing devil’s advocate)

ddt
2016-11-09 23:23
Funny you should ask that! I was wondering something similar about ethics: http://alistapart.com/article/design-white-lies-ethics

mat
2016-11-09 23:23
I’m not sure. Because if all the details are laid out and the consumer still enters into the agreement…

sgiobair_og
2016-11-09 23:24
@ben Would the habit of download sites to include multiple “download” buttons that are actually ads—while the real download is a link somewhere below the page—fit the dark pattern mold?

mat
2016-11-09 23:24
My example: I recently bought a camera with a cashback offer. And it was a pain in the arse to get the cashback but I did do it. BEcause I wanted it

ben
2016-11-09 23:24
Morals, Ethics and Responsibility are the key things here. We know, as designers, if what we’re making is right or wrong. It’s actually quite simple. So it’s about us taking a stand against this kind of thing. Saying no to our bosses, if what they’re asking us to make feels wrong.

jazsmith
2016-11-09 23:25
Isn’t this how Groupon type sites work, unless the offer is scanned by the participating business then Groupon keeps the money. A percentage of people never use their offers

ben
2016-11-09 23:25
@sgiobair_og Sounds like you’re talking about those torrent-style sites? Ha! They’re renowned for this type of thing.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:26
Those download things drive me crazy

ben
2016-11-09 23:26
My good mate Matt Magain did a Dark Patterns talk a while ago with those sites as examples of Dark Patterns.

sgiobair_og
2016-11-09 23:26
Yeah torrent style sites, even some that I’d consider “legitimate” download sites. Not sure if really wel targeted ads or the site themselves. Pain in the arse though.

ben
2016-11-09 23:27
No only the ads – but if you download their clients, they often try to trick you into installing all manner of plugins, by tricking you into clicking the yes button.

mat
2016-11-09 23:27
What about when I go to tap/click on a button, then just as I do it content above loads so pushes the button down and I click something else. Dark pattern or shit design?

sgiobair_og
2016-11-09 23:27
@jazsmith I’m inclined to agree with @mat when it comes to things like Groupon. I think the propensity for people to buy those deal and not follow through is a benefit to the Groupon model (or coupons in general) that allows them to do it. Not necessarily underhanded or tricky though.

ben
2016-11-09 23:28
Relying on users not reading text online, scanning, not looking at t&c’s and clever positioning of buttons are all ‘tricks’ that can be used to get users to do something they don’t really want to do. And again – it’s no accident. It’s designed with an understanding of how human’s brains work.

ben
2016-11-09 23:28
@jazsmith Yes.

bec7
2016-11-09 23:29
A little off topic @ben, but where/what did you study around psychology when you started exploring this area? It’s an area of UX I’m very interest in..

dust
2016-11-09 23:29
@mat I think those are just shit design, usually a result of external content loading slower than the rest of the page maybe?

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2016-11-09 23:29
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ben
2016-11-09 23:30
@mat Not sure without looking closely at the specific example. That annoys me too! I guess that’s more bad design and internet lag, but who knows? Some businesses are unscrupulous!

ben
2016-11-09 23:31
Hey @bec7 – I’ve got a few recommendations. It’s an area I’m fascinated by at the moment.

ben
2016-11-09 23:32
Here’s a few books:

ben
2016-11-09 23:32
Hooked by Nir Eyal

bec7
2016-11-09 23:32
Thanks @hawk

hawk
2016-11-09 23:32
@bec7 Also check our twitter feed from October. We had a psych theme and I tweeted a LOT of resources

ben
2016-11-09 23:32
Emotional Design by Don Norman

hawk
2016-11-09 23:32
Check out BJ Fogg’s stuff too

mat
2016-11-09 23:33
Just going to say Fogg – you mentioned his book at your preso

bec7
2016-11-09 23:33
Wonderful, thanks @ben – I’ll check them out

ben
2016-11-09 23:33
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

ben
2016-11-09 23:33
Some of the ‘A book apart’ books too

ben
2016-11-09 23:34
Emotional design and real life, I think.

mat
2016-11-09 23:34
Another thing I found interesting was services that rely on our need to complete things

mat
2016-11-09 23:34
Like Fitbit & Linkedin

mat
2016-11-09 23:34
and Pokemon (?)

ben
2016-11-09 23:35
Yes – also check out BJ Fogg (thanks @hawk). He’s the founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stamford Uni. He’s written a few books, posts and done a few talks on the subject.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:35
@ben So getting to the nicer side of persuasive design, what are some of the cognitive biases that we can take advantage of as designers to be more persuasive in our work?

ben
2016-11-09 23:36
Google his ‘Fogg Behaviour Model’.

mat
2016-11-09 23:37
Guessing the completist thing falls into persuasive design?

ben
2016-11-09 23:38
So @hawk and @mat – this is where in our talk, we started to explore how we, as designers, might use these cognitive biases to be more ethical… And yes – there are a few things.

ddt
2016-11-09 23:38
Has there been any pushback about Nir Eyal? I’ve seen his talks, and people go gaga, but his points are, basically, “you can manipulate people based on our visual and cognitive patterns, and here’s how and that’s great!” He almost gives a cookbook for dark patternining, but not ethical guidance that this might be a bad idea.

ddt
2016-11-09 23:39
(Not to mention that one talk I attended, he misquoted some study I happened to have recently read.)

lynne
2016-11-09 23:39
@ben: if your boss wants you to employ some of these tools, how can you best convince them that this is a bad idea?

ben
2016-11-09 23:39
In terms of persuasion, we found this list (not sure where) of ‘elements of ability’ that can be ‘used’ to help persuade users:

ben
2016-11-09 23:40
Time, Money, Effort, Cognitive load, Social acceptance, Routine.

ben
2016-11-09 23:40
Affect any of those, and you can start to persuade.

ben
2016-11-09 23:41
So yes – things like our human desire to complete things and have stuff put into order – helps LinkedIn and Fitbit keep us motivated to engage in their products more.

ben
2016-11-09 23:41
Which leads to @ddt’s point.

lynne
2016-11-09 23:41
@ddt – I’ve seen some pretty severe criticism of Nir Eyal’s ideas on another forum I’m a member of.

ben
2016-11-09 23:42
I agree with you – Nir’s book is being praised – presumably by app startups – as a way to heep users ‘hooked’ on their products. So they can make more money.

ben
2016-11-09 23:42
But I find it fascinating from a psychological standpoint.

ben
2016-11-09 23:43
Ultimately it’s up to the designer – he’s exposing the cognitive biases, but it’s up to designers to use them for good or evil.

ddt
2016-11-09 23:44
This translates to practical problems the ethical designer is going to have to face every day, especially here in the Bay Area startup culture. You’ll run into “we have to make money _somehow_” arguments all the time. But maybe how to combat that is another topic.

ben
2016-11-09 23:44
And it’s our job to try to stamp out unethical practices by not designing evil stuff.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:44
I think the foundation fo what Nir talks about is ok – he’s exploring how habits are formed in the same way that BJ Fogg does. I heard him talk earlier this year and while I think it’s become a bit mainstream, it didn’t seem dodgy.

ddt
2016-11-09 23:44
Though dark patterns ultimately drive people away from products, they are patterns because they are, at least initially, very very effective.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:45
@ben Lynne asked “if your boss wants you to employ some of these tools, how can you best convince them that this is a bad idea?”

ben
2016-11-09 23:45
I know! I’m a slow typer! Thanks though @hawk :wink:

lynne
2016-11-09 23:47
Perhaps I shoud to that question “without employing dark patterns of my own!”

mat
2016-11-09 23:47
Get a new boss?

ddt
2016-11-09 23:47
Give your boss three options, where the one you don’t like is in very low contrast type?

ben
2016-11-09 23:48
@lynne It’s difficult, and it takes balls, but I’d suggest talking to the decision maker and form a case that explains why Dark Patterns are a bad idea. It varies from case to case, but generally Dark Patterns are employed as a short-term initiative. And while they might achieve the required result in the short term, they risk all manner of negative outcomes longer term. Brand erosion etc.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:48
@lynne Is the assumption that the boss knows the practice is dodgy, or is this a case of requiring education?

mat
2016-11-09 23:48
We had a dark pattern in one of my products that kind of got there by accident

hawk
2016-11-09 23:48
“kind of” :wink:

mat
2016-11-09 23:48
As soon as I saw it I whipped it out

ben
2016-11-09 23:48
But discussions like this require an alternative – so you need to come up with a better way to pitch.

lynne
2016-11-09 23:49
@mat – that solves my problem, but probably won’t stop it happening anyway.

mat
2016-11-09 23:49
It was kind of a checkbox that asked a double negative

mat
2016-11-09 23:49
so quite mild but confusing at best, dark at worse…

ben
2016-11-09 23:49
@mat A common trick!

hawk
2016-11-09 23:49
The compulsory field opt-in check box

hawk
2016-11-09 23:49
so dodgy

hawk
2016-11-09 23:50
(not yours Mat)

ben
2016-11-09 23:50
We had a client once that wanted one of those popups to appear when his site loaded, asking people to sign up for emails.

mat
2016-11-09 23:50
“Uncheck this box if you do not want to keep on receiving emails”…

ben
2016-11-09 23:50
He, in turn, had a KPI from his boss to increase signups.

dust
2016-11-09 23:50
Unfortunately I hear those things actually work even if they suck

hawk
2016-11-09 23:51
Pop-ups? Or dodgy checkboxes?

dust
2016-11-09 23:51
Pop ups

hawk
2016-11-09 23:51
Yup, they do. They’re not dodgy in themselves though, just annoying.

ddt
2016-11-09 23:51
“Removing dark patterns from any site involves a leap of faith. A company has to shift from a short-term quantitative measurement mindset to one that values relatively slow, steady growth “ — http://alistapart.com/article/dark-patterns-deception-vs.-honesty-in-ui-design

ben
2016-11-09 23:53
So we explained – while this initiative might have given him a small bump in the short term – it’s likely it’ll just annoy users over time. We explained that actually having better, more compelling content and developing a smarter social media community would actually help increase signups over time (albeit probably a slower burn). But a growing set of happy, engaged subscribers is better.

vickykid
2016-11-09 23:53
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lynne
2016-11-09 23:54
@hawk – in this case it is setting up a page which ads are linked to which requires the user to create an account to continue to the homepage. If you type in the homepage address directly then you can visit without needing to create an account. I’ve tried arguing that this is dodgy but it is being justified on the grounds that “we need to get more people to sign up so we can get funding for the next stage – then we will remove it”.

ben
2016-11-09 23:54
That’s a barrier to entry.

mat
2016-11-09 23:54
@lynne Oh, yeah, that sucks

ben
2016-11-09 23:55
Is the expectation that users are so engaged that they will jump that hoop to get to the page (high motivation) or is it likely that many will think “too hard” and go away?

mat
2016-11-09 23:56
In this situation, the close button is your friend…

slightlyaskew
2016-11-09 23:56
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ddt
2016-11-09 23:56
@lynne Yeah, that’s bad. It doesn’t trust the users, first of all. But there’s also the business case that you’re not getting valid metrics; you can’t tell if the user is willingly giving up something of value (the time and privacy involved in giving up an email address) in exchange for more info about your product.

hawk
2016-11-09 23:57
Hey We have a couple of minutes left. If you’re sitting on a question, now is the time to ask it!
RELATED:  Community Roundup #3

ben
2016-11-09 23:58
Why not let users straight in (higher volume of users through the front door), then provide a compelling, honest message saying “We’re looking to enhance this thing over time to give you a better service. Add your email address here to show your support..?”

mat
2016-11-09 23:58
:arrow_up: This

ben
2016-11-09 23:59
If I clicked an ad and got to a page asking me to create a membership, I’d bail.

mat
2016-11-10 00:00
Likewise

dust
2016-11-10 00:00
I usually close it without reading it but I still go to the page

mat
2016-11-10 00:00
@dust some don’t allow you to close

ben
2016-11-10 00:00
If I got the alternative, I might be more inclined to help out. Plus, now I’m an engaged user. Not just a random email address.

mat
2016-11-10 00:00
oh, you mean the page or the pop-up?

lynne
2016-11-10 00:00
Personally, I think many users will think too hard and won’t even make it to the site, and even those that do sign up might not be our target users as they haven’t even made it to the site. But the thinking is that if we have their contact details we can get in touch to get feedback. I like the suggestion about an honest message – will give it a try (thanks!)

hawk
2016-11-10 00:01
Ok all, I think we’ll call it and let Ben get on with his day.
Thanks so much for your time @ben . This was a really interesting discussion.
And thanks to the rest of you for your interesting questions and ideas.

mat
2016-11-10 00:01
Thanks, great discussion.

mat
2016-11-10 00:01
Good luck @lynne

lynne
2016-11-10 00:01
Thanks @ben and everyone else too!

ben
2016-11-10 00:01
My pleasure folks!

tatewu
2016-11-10 00:02
Thanks!

ben
2016-11-10 00:02
Feel free to ping me on here if you have more questions. Or find me on Twitter – @tollady

sara
2016-11-10 00:02
Thanks it was great.

dust
2016-11-10 00:02
Thanks

hawk
2016-11-10 00:03
Have a great day everyone :slightly_smiling_face:

Sarah Hawk
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Sarah Hawk
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