Chapter 34: Concluding thoughts

Perhaps you’ve read this entire book and you’ve come to the conclusion, ‘Yeah, but I wouldn’t do any of that stuff. I’m honest. I’ll always respect users and never manipulate or deceive them.’

If you’re a designer, a business stakeholder, or any kind of product decision-maker, this is a dangerous way of thinking. It deters you from deeply considering the consequences of product design, particularly in situations where you’re under pressure to deliver results.

Instead, I think it’s useful to always think of UI design as an act of persuasion. If the user’s needs and the consequences of your work are not fully considered, then your efforts to persuade are liable to start down a slippery slope and become manipulation or deception. Design is a balancing act between business objectives and user needs. Even seemingly neutral decisions have consequences – if you present one feature prominently in your product, you present other features less prominently as a result. Sometimes these trade-offs are not as harmless as they initially may seem.

I’m reminded of the horror movie cliché where one of the characters explains, to great dramatic effect, that the evil thing pursuing them doesn’t feel compassion, can’t be reasoned with, and will never stop – whether it’s a Terminator, a shark, or some guy in a hockey mask. It’s quite a good technique to get the audience on the edge of their seats for the rest of the movie. But here’s the thing: software is quite similar. Software is very good at following the same instructions over and over again, it doesn’t feel compassion, and it’s generally very bad at reflecting on the implications of its actions on the wider world...

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Since 2010, Harry Brignull has dedicated his career to understanding and exposing the techniques that are employed to exploit users online, known as “deceptive patterns” or “dark patterns”. He is credited with coining a number of the terms that are now popularly used in this research area, and is the founder of the website He has worked as an expert witness on a number of cases, including Nichols v. Noom Inc. ($56 million settlement), and FTC v. Publishers Clearing House LLC ($18.5 million settlement). Harry is also an accomplished user experience practitioner, having worked for organisations that include Smart Pension, Spotify, Pearson, HMRC, and the Telegraph newspaper.