Avoiding Dark UX

What is dark ux and how do we avoid dark ux?

Only drug dealers and tech companies call their customers ‘users’.

And rightly so.  Designing an app or website today are about making the experience of a website or app as addictive as possible.

However, it usually isn’t the intent when product designers sit down to create the best experience for their clients in the digital world.

If you think about any experience to a typical website today, you’ll find this tweet somewhat relatable.

UX design today tweet.

As designers I think it’s crucial that with a new feature or design we create that we’re not just designing for a single user but a societal norm we want to create in future.

Nir Eyal – author of Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, talks about how psychological theories are built into products such as the endowed progress effect where a progress bar will show you how close you are to actually completing something.  Therefore you’re more likely to take the next step.

This often appears now on sign up forms on a lot of website.  You click ‘subscribe’ to download something ‘free’ and it tells you you’re 50% the way there.

The endowed progress effect.

Having worked in the advertising and product design industry for so long, I’m very much aware of how often these cognitive bias and triggers are used in marketing and digital apps today.

Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya has admitted that tools that have been created today are starting to erode the social fabric of how society works.

When we’re spending more time looking at our phones than with our loved ones, we’re doing something wrong.

When we take our phones to bed; search for it as soon as we wake up before saying ‘good morning’ to the people around us, we’re doing something wrong.

Have you ever experienced looking at your phone and then 10mins later realising that you’ve forgotten to do the thing you picked up your phone to do?

Social media and design triggers interfere with our thought process when the thing that is meant to make us more productive is constantly interrupting our thought process and diverting our attention away from the moment.

Another designer Tristan Harris who worked as a Google Design Ethicist and product philosopher has put a lot of thought into how tech takes advantage of our social inclinations and affects our behaviour.  He compares what is happing in the tech world to the growth of the food industry which made billions off of our preference for salt, sugar and fat.

A study from the University of California states that about 10 years ago, we found people shifted their attention between online and offline every three minutes.

Now, it’s about every 45 seconds.  We are constantly being interrupted because immediacy with texts, notifications make it so.  And the person who interrupts us the most – is us.

Due to our habit-forming addictions, we’re checking our phones more often than we need to, and when there are no notifications, we’re creating space we fill with useless ‘scrolling’ and checking and updating.

Studies have shown that there are direct links between the time we spend on social media and depression.

So what can we do as designers to avoid dark UX?

How about saying ‘no’ to design choices that take advantage of cognitive biases that are often used to get our users ‘addicted’.  Do you really need that red bell notification in the menu bar?  Do you really need to ask users to subscribe to your browser notifications?  I mean how urgent can you sale on fidget spinners really be?

bell notifications ux.

If we truly are ‘USER’ experience designers we’d design with our users in mind, allowing our users to get from A – B without any dark UX added into the design.

Dark UX meaning adding obstacles within the user journey or manipulating our users into doing something WE want them to do rather than what they would really like.

How about making ethical design choices when choosing the places we work and the concepts and imagery we choose to use in our advertising material.

However big or small, I’ve realised that in a world where photography, video and UI is becoming more and more important and apparent in our lives – designers have a choice to do or stand up for something that means a better future for us all.

I would LOVE to hear your comments on this one – good or bad.

For more info on this please check out the book ‘Bored and Brilliant’.

For those wanting to try a digital detox, I’ve listed the challenges below from the book which I will be doing in the next couple of weeks.

Challenge #1 – Observe yourself

Challenge #2 – Keep your devices out of reach while in motion
While commuting, going to the bathroom or walking to the car.  Put it in your bag or pocket and allow yourself to get bored.

Challenge #3 – Photo-free day
No food snaps, no scenery and definitely no selfies.

Challenge #4 – Delete the app
Ask whether the app is serving you or hurting you.  If it’s the latter – remove it.

Challenge #5 – Take a Fakecation
A vacation in the form of a break from the digital onslaught that exhausts, distracts and keeps us from thinking beyond the everyday.  Hit snooze and remove yourself from all notifications and screens for 20mins per day.  Allow yourself to be bored.

I’m also adding my very own challenge.
Challenge #6 – Create before you consume
When you feel the urge to check, go an create something.  Draw, write, sing.  Anything that allows you to create something in this world rather than consume it.  It allows you to use your brain in the way it’s intended and relieves any stress you may have.

How do you avoid dark ux in your app or website?

Stay informed,

Tania Richardson sign.

10+ years as a product designer. Helping start-ups and organisations combine user research and design principals to deliver the best in online experiences.

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