The other week I attended a private corporate event featuring author and researcher on behavioural economics Dan Ariely as the keynote speaker.
His talk revolved around our intuition, brain illusions and decision making when facing complicated situations [as a side note, the word complexity was used by the author many times to illustrate what I think are complicated decisions – when we face too much choice – but not complex decisions. For more on the distinction between both terms I recommend you check David Snowden work and his Cynefin framework]
Long story short, many times we tend to trust our intuition when we have no data to support a decision (or, I would add, choose not to “trust” what the data is telling us) but we must be aware that our mind plays tricks on us, and that the more complicated a decision is the more we will paralyze and actually take no decision at all (the “do nothing” syndrome).
Knowing this, a lot can be studied and designed around crafting choice architectures and deciding on defaults. The classic example, shared by Dan, is the difference between opt-in or opt-out models for organ donation: being a complicated decision for many of us (hence we tend to “do nothing” when asked what doctors should do with our organs once we pass away), countries that go for the opt-out model (check this box/fill this form if you do not want to donate your organs) have incredibly higher donation rates than countries to go for the opt-in model.
So companies or government agencies, in the case of the organ donation story, need to think about the choices given to customers/citizens (on websites forms, on service options, on store shelves, …), and how our brains work, carefully thinking about the set default choices. As I was thinking about this the following day, my favourite serendipity machine (Twitter) put this tweet by friend Luis Suarez on my path:
— Luis Suarez (@elsua) November 6, 2013
The tweet linked to a website devoted to “dark patterns”, defined as follows:
“A Dark Pattern is a type of user interface that appears to have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.”
Some examples are shared on that website including what is for me one of the worst cases: Ryanair.
I’m currently working currently on the redesign and relaunch of a product website at work, and having tried throughout the entire planning and prototyping phase to “put myself into customers shoes”, thinking about the jobs they need to do [recommendation: check the jobs-to-be-done framework] and how our product communication via our website can help there, I now find myself reflecting about these dark patterns:
- as we increasingly know how our brain works, how much of that will be used by businesses to exploit our human “weaknesses” and trick us into buying things we don’t need or subscribe into services we do not want?
- where do we draw the line between designing for humans (with user experience and usability in mind and helpful default choices) and designing to take advantage, for corporations alone to profit, from our human biases and our brain “imperfections”?