Let’s Stop Using The Term “Dark Patterns” in UX Design

Fredrick Royster
5 min readJul 10, 2022

The term “Dark Patterns” may sound familiar to you if you work in User Experience or web design. If you’re a regular Joe or Jane, you’ve surely encountered them while you surfed the interwebz or tried to unsubscribe from the 1 millionth email your university has sent you begging for money

Wired Magazine describes as this

“The term “dark patterns” was first coined by UX specialist Harry Brignull to describe the ways in which software can subtly trick users into doing things they didn’t mean to do, or discouraging behavior that’s bad for the company. When you want to unsubscribe from a mailing list, but the “Unsubscribe” button is tiny, low-contrast, and buried in paragraphs of text at the bottom of an email, it’s a strong sign the company is putting up subtle roadblocks between you and cancellation.”

I recently just ran into a “dark pattern” where I signed up for what I thought was a free credit score check. I awoke this morning to a 30 dollar charge on my bank account.. That’s been going on for several months!

It got me thinking about a topic that has been quietly bubbling under in the user experience design world, especially among black and brown UX designers. What makes everything “Dark” so bad? The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, right?

The only thing good associated with the color Black in popular culture is when a company is profitable and “in the Black” (instead of being in the red hence the name of everyone’s favorite hypercapitalist US holiday, Black Friday).

Nowadays, many smartphone users like to use “dark mode” because the higher contrast is easier on the eyes, so there’s that!

But just how did the word dark become associate with bad end evil?

Aradhna Krishna, Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing, University of Michigan has done research into this very topic

There are “brighter days ahead” after “dark times.” We want to be whitelisted and not blacklisted for jobs. Black hats are the bad hackers and white hats the good ones. White lies make stretching the truth okay, while we don’t want to receive a black mark on our records. In picture books, good people, angels and Gods dress in white, but the villains, devils and the Grim Reaper dress in black.

How do such linguistic metaphors get formed? And do they perpetuate racism?

Fredrick Royster

Lapsed Web Designer*UI/UX Professional* Electronic Dance Music Aficionado * Chicagoland (except that stint in Croatia!)