Can UX design be an ethical problem?

Published Jul 03, 2019 | Written by Jeremy Knight

Today I want to talk about responsible marketing. I was listening to a talk by UX expert Celia Hoden (exploring ethics in the Game Industry) when I first heard about dark patterns. The term describes tricks and tactics used on digital platforms to make users act in ways that they don’t really mean or want to (like adding a product to basket, accruing hidden costs or signing up for something).

It’s a dishonest practice that sometimes creeps into UX design and causes bad feeling. 

As a marketer, your job is to try and influence people’s decisions, but that's not the issue. Dark patterns go step further, and remove or diminish the user’s ability to opt out.

It’s important to be aware of the many nudge tactics that are used to steer buyer behaviours, and ensure that your business is operating in a transparent and trustworthy manner.

If you don’t care about dark patterns as an ethical issue, maybe you’ll care about the loss of business - just look at this reel of examples posted by disgruntled users.

I think it’s especially important to keep this matter in mind when building conversion paths, where you might tread a thin line between persuasion and manipulation. On a landing page, you’re encouraging visitors to provide contact details in exchange for a piece of informative content. 

To protect your user, and your integrity, it should be clear that their information may be used for marketing purposes, and the content you offer should be of genuine value. It should also be easy for them to unsubscribe.

Dark patterns only fulfil short-term goals. They do not build a customer base, and they certainly do not help you to increase your reach. In that sense, the can hinder the growth of your business.


Dark Patterns are deceptive UX/UI interactions, designed to mislead or trick users to make them do something they don’t want to do. This term was coined in 2010 after the boom of ecommerce industries on the web. In order to generate more sales, get subscriptions, and hit target numbers in transactions etc., designers and business associates started creating deceiving user interfaces to manipulate users.

This article is divided in two sections. The first section includes a detailed description of Dark Patterns, its history and different types explained with relatable examples.

The second section of this article briefly covers and talks about big picture impact of Dark Patterns and possible solutions to it.

Published by Jeremy Knight July 3, 2019
Jeremy Knight