In the past, brands like LinkedIn and Ryanair have used dark UX tactics on their websites. In LinkedIn's case they were ordered to pay $13 million to their users for foul play found within their on-boarding process.

But what is dark UX and why do brands use it?

What is dark UX?

Dark UX is a term first used by UX designer Harry Brignull in 2010, to describe websites that deliberately mislead users in completing certain actions that they may not have taken otherwise. As design agency Sigma explains, "they tend to benefit the brand rather that the user".

Dark UX takes advantage of the users desire to complete tasks as quickly as possible and with little fuss. In doing so, they skim read content and make assumptions. It is at this point they become vulnerable and open to persuasion. As Brignull explains, "dark UX are not mistakes, but in fact, carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology". They play with our emotions, making us unaware that we are being taken advantage of.

Here are 3 types of dark UX tactics to look out for:

Roach Motel

Named after a trap that lures in cockroaches using sent and bait, the Roach Motel refers to a website that makes it easy for users to create an account for but then makes it extremely difficult for them to cancel. It strategically places obstacles in front of the user and holds them against their will.

An example of a Roach Motel, is trying to cancel a NOWTV subscription. They purposely make it extremely difficult for users to cancel a contact by repeatedly asking the same questions.

Intentional misdirection

Intentional misdirection is when a website guides the user to an option that benefits the brand more than themselves. This could be a more expensive holiday or a contract with certain commitments.

It is a common tactic used within apps and online games whereby the 'buy credits' button are bigger and given centre stage. Whereas, the 'no thank you' button are smaller and difficult to tap.

Bait and switch

When a website doesn't behave in the correct manner, this is referred to as 'bait and switch'. It falsely leads the user in and then changes tact.

The most famous bait and switch was Microsoft who upgraded their users software without their permission. They lured them in with a misleading popup.

So, why do brands use it?

The reason why brands like Amazon, Etsy and British Airways, use dark UX is because of greed. Dark UX has been proven to deliver short term success to areas such as sales, user subscriptions and data gathering.

However, brands should avoid using it in the long term. Users become savvy to these tactics and will soon take their trust and loyalty elsewhere. Implementing dark UX can lead to brands having damaged reputations. Ryanair and easyJet both had their reputations damaged when they were fined €1 million for misleading their customers into buying travel insurance.


Key takeaways

Dark UX is a term given to websites that deliberately mislead users for the benefit of the brand. It can be very lucrative and proven to deliver short term success.

However, brands should seriously consider its consequences. Dark UX can have a negative effect on a brands reputation, as it breaks consumer trust and loyalty. Instead, brands should look to strengthen their consumer relationships by being open and honest. They should not look to exploit them at every opportunity.

As a designer, we too have a ethical responsibility to uphold. We should look to protect the most vulnerable and consider the effects our designs have on individuals.

The next time we look to influence our users behaviour, we should be asking ourselves the question; are we persuading the users to choose what's best for them, or what's best for the brand?