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Dark patterns. UX design with societal side effects

In an increasingly digital economy, the physical contact between consumers and businesses is being replaced by digital user interfaces with increasing frequency. Every day there are millions of people in Germany alone who use the websites or apps of online retailers, streaming services, social media companies and other providers. Well-crafted websites and applications capture attention and create user loyalty to products and brands. Does a retailer’s website make it quick and seamless to find and order what a user is looking for? Can a map or navigation service be used intuitively? How much work is it to create a customer account? Since the 1990s, UX designers have been studying how humans interact with computers and optimising their services based on findings rooted in psychology and behavioural economics. In an analysis from the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung think tank entitled “Dark patterns: regulating digital design”, Sebastian Rieger and Caroline Sinders are now warning that the goal of optimisation is typically financial benefit for business and not the welfare of the user. The phrase “dark patterns” describes anything that fosters a specific behaviour that could lead to a disadvantage for users. These include tricks such as brightly coloured buttons for options requiring payment, burying important details in fine print and hiding toggles for data protection options. Most people are familiar with misleading warnings or countdowns like “Only 2 rooms left!” that are used by booking portals or online shops to pressure users, making it difficult to compare prices and enticing people into impulse buys. To prevent this and take action against manipulative design, the authors do not believe in new laws being discussed. Rather, they feel that existing laws should be applied more consistently than in the past.

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