The Light and Dark Side of Usability

A recent article by usability expert Harry Brignull got us thinking about all the ways website owners trick their users. Brignull does not believe people start of thinking “how can I trick people,” but shows how several forces in the marketplace combine in a recipe that produces this behavior. The one that caught our eye the most was the tendency to create “metrics” and channel our efforts to achieving goals based on these metrics.

He uses an example from the National Health Service in which, to meet the goal of reducing the time patients waited to first talk to a nurse, the NHS just added a nurse whose sole role was to say hello to visitors. The waiting time metric was thus satisfied, though no value was really added to the system. In fact, the real problem was then concealed.

Thinking like this, it’s only one step further to making it hard for people to opt out of a mailing that you’re trying to increase subscriptions for, or even leading people to inadvertently purchase an additional item when they buy something they want.

Brignull has been a thought leader on this topic for some time. Check out this lecture to designers, as well as this one for brand owners. Anyone who wants to really get into the depths of this issue should check out the Dark Patterns wiki, which includes this awesome illustration:


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