#008 – Still Untitled

Deceptive Design is bad – part 2

No, mate. We’re not breaking up. I don’t know who you are, and we never went out in the first place.

01 October 2021

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    Piccia Neri's face looking up to the left, with a smile and the sunlight behind her

    By Piccia Neri

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    By Piccia Neri.

    Do not shame or otherwise manipulate your users. Ever!

    Last time, you may remember, I told you a story of shame from my childhood: when a person I put my faith in abused my trust and tricked me into an embarrassing situation.

    On the web, this kind of behaviour is what we define as a Deceptive Design (formerly known as “dark patterns”. Specifically, this type is called Bait and switch: when the user sets out to do one thing, but a different, undesirable thing happens instead.

    There are many types of deceptive designs, and as we were saying, they are ubiquitous, unfortunately. Some are subtle, deftly hiding their true manipulative nature, and we’ve grown so used to them that we don’t even notice anymore. Some, on the other hand, are blatant, obvious, and generally despicable.

    The most infamous and widely-spread types of deceptive design pattern involves clever copywriting, combined with a cunning use of UI.

    I’m talking about Confirmshaming and Manipulinks: dubious marketing practices that are unfortunately absolutely everywhere, every day.

    These are passive-aggressive ways of persuading people to do what the business wants them to do, regardless of whether it would be good for them or not.

    Take Ryanair, for instance. Ryanair, for those of you outside Europe, is a low-cost airline that completely revolutionised air travel in the Old Continent over the course of the past 2 decades.

    They’ve been making money hand over fist by selling no-frills plane seats that are only apparently very cheap, but that can become quite expensive when you start adding all the extras.

    And they’ve done that by using copywriting and UI in extremely clever, subtly passive-aggressive deceptive design patterns that you don’t always recognise as “deceptive” immediately, because they purport to be in your own best interest.

    Ryanair are absolute masters at peppering their user journeys with Confirmshaming and Manipulinks that are so smart, they don’t even look like there’s anything dodgy or exploitative about them. Most of the times you don’t even notice – but you should.

    When you buy a flight from Ryanair, your entire journey is an obstacle course where you deftly manoeuvre around countless attempts at separating you from your money. By the time you get to the actual checkout process, your head is spinning.

    There is no time in this newsletter to examine the whole process, but I will do it some day – it’s fascinating.

    For now, let’s just consider this moment in the user journey:

    I’ve selected the dates for my flights, deciding to board with just one small bag. There are three very big panels to choose from, and I consciously and voluntarily opt to click on the “Small bag only” one.

    I know perfectly well what this entails: I have flown with Ryanair hundreds of times before. This choice is made in full awareness of the consequences. As a seasoned Ryanair captive, I have developed tactics to make the most of my forced time with them.

    Yet, once I’ve made this choice as a sentient, fully functioning human being, the panel below pops up. In principle, it’s a good UX practice to make sure that the customer understands what their choice involves, and they should be given a chance to correct their course of action in case they’ve made a mistake.

    However, what irks here is that the whole copy and interface are carefully crafted with the aim of making you take the “positive” (for the airline) step of paying for priority boarding and 2 cabin bags.

    On the left, the big, blue headline is subtly crafted to make you doubt the wisdom of your choice. Are you absolutely sure a small bag will be enough?

    Then to make it clearer, let’s bold out a threat: you will be fined. No ifs, no buts. With a bit of peer pressure thrown in (“Most solo travellers add this, don’t you want to join the cool kids club?”)

    Then the lovely green ticks give you further reason why you absolutely should take this friendly advice (or you’ll find a horse’s head on your seat, perhaps?)

    Let’s move to the right panel.

    • The “This will sell out” message is in all caps, i.e. shouted at you on an ominous red alert background.
    • The “Add” button is the most prominent, and the only one that actually looks like a button.
    • The “No Thanks” option doesn’t even look like a button or a link! Tiny tiny typeface, too. And this is what I object to the most.

    Given that I expressed my intention to board with just a small bag in my last interaction, it’s the “No Thanks” option that should be given the button treatment in the interface.

    The whole situation is one big passive-aggressive exercise, but if I had to pinpoint the two most obvious examples of Confirmshaming and Manipulinks in action, it would be these two:


    • The “THIS WILL SELL OUT” screamed at me on a red background
    • The “No thanks” looking like normal text instead of getting the button treatment and being the most prominent choice.

    This despicable but very subtle tactic is a very popular and prevalent one on the web today, and now that I’ve told you about it you will notice it everywhere.

    This is how to do it instead

    Compare with the image below. This is Qobuz, a music streaming app. I’ve requested to cancel my subscription because I just realised that I have had 2 for months (yeah I’m a genius I know).

    In this screen, they want some feedback from me. Fair enough. However, they are aware that I have expressed the clear intention of unsubscribing.

    As a consequence, it’s the “Submit and Unsubscribe” option that’s given all the prominence, and made to look like an interactive element in the UI.

    It’s the “cancel and go back to my account” that’s made tiny, barely even looking like a link.

    Why? Because Qobuz respect their customers, even when they express the desire to leave. They don’t think I’ve made a mistake or could still be persuaded. They understand that no means no. They give me the option to change my mind, as they should, but they do so respectfully and politely.

    Here are a few other examples of Confirmshaming and Manipulinks that I have recently  collected. They range from slightly annoying to hair-raisingly appalling.

    How can you give this subject to an email?? Just because I didn’t take you up on your previous offer??

    This nearly gave me a full anxiety attack.

    This person doesn’t get anonymised because they’ve made a habit of this – I have dozens more similar examples from them. It’s clearly an integral part of their marketing strategy.

    No, mate. We’re not breaking up. I don’t know who you are, and we never went out in the first place.

    If you notice any deceptive design patterns that make you grit your teeth, please write back and send them to me. United, we can win against dodgy UX practices! I’d love for us to do our bit to eradicate them.
    In the meantime, if you haven’t yet, I’ll renew the suggestion to follow Harry Bignull’s Deceptive Design Twitter account. I love it because it doesn’t only name and shame (and name and shame it does! People who adopt these shady tactics deserve no anonymity, unless you have good reasons to believe they are in good faith, as can happen): it also points out examples of good UX that provides the diametrically opposite experience to a deceptive design.

    Shiny new object alert: best quiz tool ever

    Q: Who doesn’t like a quiz?

    A: No one!

    That might be a bit of an exaggeration – and yet, can you resist a juicy quiz?

    🙋🏻‍♀️ I can’t!

    Quizzes are one of the best ways to engage your users. We like to be asked our opinion, we like to play with interactive things, and we like to laugh at the absolutely preposterous results we get from the latest Buzzfeed quiz.

    You can also use quizzes to research your audience & find out how you can best serve them. Or you can create quizzes that educate as well as entertain, which is perfect if you are a course creator looking to get targeted leads.

    However, the tools to create quizzes are usually expensive. Most of them, such as Typeform for instance, are third-party platforms, which means you can’t run them on your domain (unless I’m mistaken). Even more importantly, you will loose all your carefully crafted surveys & quizzes – as well as the answers – the minute you decide you’ve had enough of paying the monthly subscription.

    The best solution? A tool that creates quizzes, that you own outright, and that you can use on your WordPress site as well as other websites.

    Last time I looked for such a tool, it didn’t exist.

    Off I go to AppSumo to try my luck.

    Lo and behold: the absolutely perfect quiz creation tool is on offer this month.

    ✅ Smart Quiz Builder can be yours forever for just $59.

    🙏🏼 Thank you Universe.

    Veena Prashanth and her team have built a tool that’s incredibly versatile, complete, so easy to use, with brilliant UX. Cherry on the cake: the embed code is super simple and works a treat on any site. I tested an embed in one of my lessons: sooo easy and perfect.

    I am now having so much fun creating quizzes for my courses and websites: Smart Quiz Builder makes it so easy.

    💖 I love this shiny new object. I hardly ever buy tools anymore, but this one is a must. And when you check their roadmap you find out that they have loads more great improvements and features coming up.

    In the interest of full transparency, these are affiliate links so if you buy after clicking on here, you might just be buying me a nice glass of Verdejo from my favourite chiringuito here in Valencia.

    In case you missed it: This is not going where you think it’s going.


    Please do click to see the video attached to this tweet, I promise it’s worth it. I still can’t quite get over how this car could actually get into production. With thanks to my friend Vicent Sanchis for alerting me to this.

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