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.