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'Dark Patterns' gives name and definition to scammy web design practices

When we pulled up this little presentation by Harry Brignull on “Dark Patterns” in UI design we assumed we’d be seeing some new nefarious techniques that designers were just happening upon. Instead we were confronted with a concise examination of the sort of anti-usability / anti-user practices that are commonly used by designers (on purpose) in order to trick, lull, or goad users into doing stuff they don’t want to do. These techniques are seldom talked about, but they’re so near ubiquitous that you’d recognize most all of the examples: online retailers sneaking something into your shopping cart, services that are easy to opt in to but near impossible to opt out of, tricky checkboxes that obfuscate whether you’re signing up for spam or opting out, and so forth. Sure, we expect this sort of behavior from our friendly neighborhood online scam, but the fact that so many big, “good,” brands use the same practices shows just how little of a stigma has been attached to it.

Harry Brignull, in his excellent talk which is embedded after the break, calls for a UI design code of ethics that “good” designers can shove in the face of pushy bosses, and that users can shove in the face of “good” brands. The darkpatterns.org site is serving as a repository for specific examples of UI abuse, and hopefully meaningful pressure on the named companies can start to push back on some of what Harry calls “black hat” UI design. We’ll try to keep an eye on the movement as it progresses and publish a well-defined code of ethics once there is one. In the meantime feel free to shame any worst offenders that spring to mind in comments below. Read more
Entelligence: Let's get digital

Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he’ll explore where our industry is and where it’s going – on both micro and macro levels – with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

One of the more recent trends in UI design has been the attempt to make the digital appear analog. It arguably started with the NeXT OS, which had photorealistic icons and used clever grayscale techniques to give three-dimensional depth to windows, scroll bars and other elements. Today, Apple’s iPhone compass app looks like it might be more at home on an 18th-century clipper ship, and the voice recorder app looks at home in a recording studio somewhere around 1950 – tap on the “microphone” and the VU meter will react much as it would in real life. Google’s added subtle 3D effects to Android’s app scrolling. I haven’t thought that much about this trend until I recently spent some time using Windows Phone 7.

It’s perhaps a minor issue but one of the things I like about WP7 is that it’s not a digital UI pretending to be analog. The user interface is flat. There are no photorealistic depictions of real world items, no shading, and no 3D effects. Everything is conveyed through the use of fonts, shapes and color. It’s digital and it’s proud. Overall, I like it, and the more I use it, the more I prefer it. Returning to a more digital approach means Microsoft was able to rethink the nature of applications and services and create the concept of hubs, where like functions meet similar functions without the need for separate applications. It takes some getting used to, but the more I use it, the more natural it feels. Read more
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Former Apple UI designer joins Facebook to lead product design team

It remains to be seen exactly what he’ll be involved with, but Facebook’s new Product Design Manager brings quite a background with him to the job. Until just a few months ago, Chris Weeldreyer was a UI Design Manager at Apple (a role held for over eight years) where, as The Next Web reports, he was responsible for the company’s iWeb and Numbers software, and has been named in a number of Apple’s patent applications. Before that, he worked in both hardware and software product development, having held positions at Frog Design, Pentagram and Cooper. No word from either company on the move, but Weeldreyer himself made the move official on his LinkedIn page – and, of course, his Facebook profile.

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