Kaitlin Pike

Nick DisabatoRaise your hand if you’ve ever been hoodwinked by manipulative UX design on a website. Maybe they used a bait and switch tactic or disguised ads as navigation options. You likely never returned and are perhaps bitter at the experience – but have you considered that your own website might do the same thing?

If you haven’t, you may want to check out Nick Disabato’s talk at Web 2.0 Expo New York next week, Deceptive UX: How to Trick People and What to Do About It. Nick, author of interaction design book Cadence & Slang, said many companies still don’t understand that a site’s UX can negatively affect people’s opinions about their business practices.

He gave the example of buying an airline ticket: The airline wants you to pay additional money for checking more bags and insurance, and to get this, they check the boxes for these extra fees as default. Some customers may not notice until after they complete the purchase. “They may be angry and upset that they spent ten dollars when they didn’t want to.”

“It’s difficult for me [or the other customers] to tell if they do this deliberatively to try to sell… or if they’re just careless with the way they’re designing things,” he said. “You need to see your product from the user’s standpoint.”

Nick quoted J. Porter Clark to describe the problem a company could get itself into by being ignorant of proper UX: Sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice. And if your company intentionally uses manipulative design patterns, consider this: While you may make money in the short run, you will burn through customers’ good will very quickly.

“Customers are increasingly empowered to take to the streets and rail against your organization,” he said. “Zappos does as much as humanely possible to make people happy and they’ve done just gangbuster sales as a result.”

So what UX design patterns should you avoid?

Nick suggested checking out the Dark Patterns wiki for a good list and examples. Here’s one from the site concerning Bait and Switch tactics:

“When Scribd.com originally launched, it was pitched as a ‘YouTube for documents’. The ‘Free’ end of its original Freemium business model allowed users to upload and view documents in an unlimited capacity, making money from display advertising. All of a sudden, in September 2010, Scribd.com put a substantial chunk of user uploads behind a paywall… After a sizable negative public reaction, Scribd posted an apology, and changed its UI design slightly, to provide what they claim as “Clear opt-out” and “Proactive messaging”.  In other words, they now provide users with a way to circumvent the paywall, if they have the patience and the ability to navigate through the site.”

On the flip side (and to end this post on a happier note), if you’re looking for a site that uses persuasive UX for good, Nick recommends ReadyForZero.com, a free financial program that helps people get out of debt.

Interested in learning more? Come to Nick’s session next week at Web 2.0 Expo New York. Register with code BLG20 to save 20%.


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