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Dark Patterns vs. Emotional Design | The Basics

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

✎ Another post brought to you by my 2023 #LTech courses.

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The Dark Side of UX Design:

'Pay to Play' is the name of the game -- and everything will stop you from quitting!


Have you ever found a product online that you've been waiting f-o-r-e-v-e-r to try, and to your amazement, it's-- FREE! You add it to your cart with a quick tap, only to discover it was too good to be true. It's only free if you cough up $14.99 for the shipping and handling. (, 2020, para. 3). Or how about signing up for a subscription for a service, you know, like that one that offers 'free 2-day shipping' because it's the one time of year that they have a discounted membership? It should be fine, right? You can cancel at any time. That is until you jump through a 15-step cancelation process that they affectionately named the "Iliad Flow" (Fast Company, 2023, para. 6). These are what the user experience design calls "dark patterns."

Simply put, a dark pattern is "a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things" (Wikipedia, Dark Patterns, 2019, para. 1). And this is precisely what the Fast Company article discusses in the context of the Federal Trade Commission bringing a lawsuit against e-commerce giant Amazon (Fast Company, 2023, para. 1).

Given that these designs use deceptive and manipulative patterns, some oversite in this area will benefit users across the board. Not everyone who clicks 'add to cart' is tech-savvy enough to understand they are signing up for a maze filled with misdirection. And, while Amazon will ultimately become the poster child for e-commerce using these practices to add to their bottom line, it should be a wake-up call to all companies!


Emotional Design - The power of a positive experience.

With great power comes great responsibility!


At its core, emotional design is "any design that intentionally evokes an emotional response in its viewer" (99Design, 2022, para. 6). It's how the colors on a website make you feel or the feedback you get when you complete a task on your Kanban board. Emotional design aims to create a positive association with a product or company (99Design, 2022, para. 11).

While emotional design still uses aspects of behavioral psychology to influence the user, it creates a positive experience that brings some benefit or value (Wikipedia, Emotional Design, 2019, para. 4). In this 99design article, the who, what, and why of emotional design and how companies can successfully apply it to their products and brands are discussed (99Design, 2022, para. 18).

As an overall practice, if a brand or product truly has its users' best experience in mind, I see the value in implementing these design principles. Sometimes, we appeal to the humanity in a user to overcome their perspectives and share the benefits and value we have to offer. However, there is a fine line that everyone within design should know, and it is easy to cross—the intersection where emotional appeal turns into manipulation.




Diaz, J. (2023, June 23). It's time for Amazon to pay for Prime's crimes against design [Review of It's time for Amazon to pay for Prime's crimes against design]. Fast Company.

Kramer, L. (2022, January 21). What is emotional design? 99designs.

Sapio, D. (2020, May 18). 10 Evil Types of Dark UX Patterns. Medium.

Wikipedia Contributors. (2019, December 29). Dark pattern. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

Wikipedia Contributors. (2019, July 5). Emotional Design. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

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