Week 5: Learning UX Design at Academy Xi – Good vs. Evil

Good vs Evil

Have you heard of “dark patterns”? Originally coined by UX guru, Harry Brignull, the term dark pattern refers to a user interface that’s been carefully designed to trick users into doing something that they didn’t mean to do.

Even if you’ve never heard of dark patterns, you’ve most definitely seen them. From the tiny “x” in the corner of an annoying pop-up ad … to emails that hide the unsubscribe link.

My pet peeve is “confirm shaming”. That’s when a pop-up asks you to sign up for a newsletter or discount … but then there’s a button or link that says something like “No thanks, I hate saving money and making my life awesome”. Here’s a real life example. 👇

Confirm shaming example
image via confirmshaming.tumblr.com

Dark patterns are everywhere online. But manipulating users into doing things that aren’t good for them (or making them feel like shit), isn’t cool. It’s bad UX … and it’s bad for business, too.

For example, imagine if a company ran a hackathon that focussed on the question: “How might we get millennials addicted to our platform”? That’s pretty freakin’ dark, right?

But what if I told you that was an actual “problem statement” that we saw this week while visiting a multinational company? Yep, straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook. Plus, it was shared openly without so much as a hint of shame.

It certainly sparked some debate within our class at Academy Xi. Would you actually want to work for a company like that? Some classmates didn’t seem to have any problem with it. Others weren’t comfortable with what they’d seen, but said they’d still work there. For me and a few others though, it was a resounding “HELL NO!”. I’m not using my UX powers for evil.

I couldn’t help but think … what if that same company had asked: “How might we improve the user experience for millennials so that they become loyal customers and passionate advocates”? That’s a different proposition entirely. I could sleep well at night working on that problem. Plus, companies that focus on improving user experiences are generally more profitable anyway. So why bother engaging in dark patterns and evil tactics in the first place?


Towards the light

Don’t get me wrong, this week at Academy Xi has been the best by far. Together with my new group, we’ve had the privilege of working with a travel brand that’s dedicated to making a difference.

As usual, I’m not mentioning the name of The Client to avoid any confidentiality issues. But the good news is, they’re all about helping people travel safer and smarter while supporting worthy causes around the world. It’s a company that I’d be proud to work for.

Unlike our first client project, there was a clear brief – increase mobile conversions by improving the user experience. No tricks, tactics or BS here. Just honest-to-goodness research, analysis and user testing to discover where users were getting stuck … and coming up with solutions. Although we only had a small window of time, I was happy to be able to put some of my previous ConversionXL training into practice.

Working on this group project has been a great experience. Right from the kickoff, we were all pretty much on the same page. By the time Friday rolled around, we were smashing out our user flow and ideation board with aplomb. All that’s left now is to create our prototype and do some more user testing.

When it comes to group work, it doesn’t get any better than this. In fact, as I got stuck into my personal project over the weekend (stay tuned), I missed being able to bounce ideas off my teammates. This is coming from someone who used to prefer working alone! I’ve changed. I think this is what the self-help gurus call “personal growth”.

Tony Robbins GIF

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