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26 Examples of Dark Patterns

Dark patterns are user interface practices that intentionally degrade the user experience in order to shape user behavior. This is done to optimize for a goal whereby a firm profits in some way from the poor customer experience. Dark patterns are typical of monopolistic firms that have customers who have a lack of viable alternatives. They are also used by transactional marketers who aren't looking to establish a relationship with a customer but simply want to close a single sale. Dark patterns may enrage the public and reduce customer satisfaction. In some cases, they are illegal. The following are illustrative examples of a dark pattern.


Making it difficult for customers to reach things that are contrary to your goals by placing them at a greater depth in a user interface than average. For example, an ecommerce site with one-click to order, 3 clicks to update your payment information and 11 clicks to cancel your account.

Most Astonishment

Placing things you don't want the customer to do in the least intuitive place imaginable such that it is hard to find. The opposite of least astonishment.


Requiring users to opt-out of a purchase, upgrade or unpopular feature. Allowing users to opt-out of functionality is not a dark pattern unless you know specifically that a function, feature or practice is unpopular such that it diminishes the user experience by default.

Repeat With Variation

Asking the customer the same question in different ways as part of a single process. For example, an ecommerce site that asks a customer three different times in three different ways to join a premium service as part of a check out process.

Visual Tricks

Visual tricks such as hiding links to things you don't want the customer to use with low contrast links.

Friend Spam

Accessing a user's contacts and then spamming their friends. In many cases, spam content may be designed to look as if the individual is making a personal recommendation.

Labor Extraction

Using users as a form of labor. For example, asking users to label photos in order to submit a request and then using this as valuable machine learning data. It's not always a dark pattern for users to perform labor but it is where this makes the experience worse and the goal is to unfairly profit from this labor.

Resource Extraction

Using a user's device to perform data processing that is not related to the user's request. For example, a mobile app that uses thousands of user devices as a processing pool to produce revenue.

Artificial Need

Purposely creating problems for the customer to create an artificial customer need that generates revenue. In other words, requiring the customer to pay to solve a problem that you have created for them. For example, a customer books three airline tickets on a mostly empty flight and the airline purposely books the seats all apart from each other. In order to correct the problem, the customer must pay a seat booking fee.

Planned Obsolescence

Degrading the performance or usability of a product over time such that users need to replace it.

Bad By Design

Intentionally designing things with low quality in order to shape customer behavior. For example, making a chair in a coffee shop uncomfortable so that customers won't sit too long.

Tricky Jargon

Using jargon such as legal terms to present negative information such as the privacy implications of joining a service when this information could just as well be presented in plain language.

Failure to Set Expectations

Failure to set clear expectations or encouraging users to think they will get value that is not on offer. For example, a game that pretends to be free whereby you can't really play for long without buying something.


Training and conditioning a user to perform an action over and over again and then suddenly switching things up to misdirect the user. For example, a game where you must hit a big green button to play again where this button is occasionally replaced with an in-app purchase button that looks much the same.

Tricky Labels

Labeling links with deceptive text. For example, a button for an in-app purchase labeled "Build a Tower" as opposed to "Buy a Tower" or "Build a Tower for $1.99."

Bait and Switch

Advertising low prices that few customers will actually be able to obtain. For example, an airline that advertises a $399 fare that is only available on 10 seats on one day such that most customers receive far higher fares when they click the offer such as $799. In the worst case, the firm offering the bait has no inventory at that price such that it is listed as "sold out."

Hidden Costs

Costs that are added at the last step of a purchase when the customer is already heavily committed. For example, fees and taxes that appear on the last page of a flight booking process as opposed to the first price quote.

Needless Complexity

Making information or environments needlessly complex in order to purposely confuse the customer. For example, an ecommerce company that makes their returns process incomprehensible so as to reduce returns.

Failure Demand

Failure demand is when the poor performance of a firm results in increased sales. For example, a telecom company that makes its billing inaccurate and its bills incomprehensible that benefits from greater orders for expensive flat rate pricing plans simply because customers want to understand their bills.

Misleading Urgency

Attempts to give the customer a sense of urgency that is not reflective of the true nature of the situation. For example, a counter that suggests that all inventory will be sold out in 60 seconds when that is in fact unlikely.

Manipulative Language

Attempts to psychologically manipulate users or customers. For example, "Uncheck this box if you don't care about your children's education."

Misleading Language

Language that is intentionally crafted to give a false impression such as trick questions.

Manipulative Pricing

Pricing practices that may be perceived as manipulative such as using a customer's address to implement price discrimination. Such practices may be hidden behind technology terms such as "pricing algorithm", "dynamic pricing" and "revenue management."

Manipulative Comparisons

Designing comparisons to make a current item look relatively good in order to increase a conversion rate. For example, a customer searches for a particular date for a flight and gets a price of $799 and an algorithm designed to increase conversion rate suggests that flights departing the day before and the day after are $1909 and $3307.

Shaped Accidents

Anything that is done to encourage the user to do something by accident is a dark pattern.

Reasonable Expectations

Violating the reasonable expectations of the user. For example, if a user is able to signup for a service using a self-service webpage it is a reasonable expectation that canceling the service will be just as easy. If cancellation is a cumbersome process that requires the use of another channel such as telephone, this is a dark pattern.
Overview: Dark Patterns
Definition (1)
User interface practices that intentionally degrade the user experience in order to shape user behavior towards a goal.
Definition (2)
Creating revenue by making a user or customer experience worse.
Concept Attributed To
Harry Brignull
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Brignull, Harry. "Dark Patterns: Deception vs. Honesty in UI Design." Interaction Design, Usability 338 (2011).
Zagal, José P., Staffan Björk, and Chris Lewis. "Dark patterns in the design of games." Foundations of Digital Games 2013. 2013.
Gray, Colin M., et al. "The dark (patterns) side of UX design." Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2018.
Bösch, Christoph, et al. "Tales from the dark side: Privacy dark strategies and privacy dark patterns." Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies 2016.4 (2016): 237-254.


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