Dark patterns are getting darker

19th September 2021

dark pattern is “a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying overpriced insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills”


Most dark patterns follow the definition above, they’re there to trick you into doing something. Think Ryanair around 2011. Those £5 flights end up being £50 because of taxes. There was no way the flight was going to be £5, but Ryanair decided to split up the actual cost of your flight. Your ticket did cost £5, but with all the taxes that you 100% always have to pay… they weren’t lying to you, but they also weren’t being honest.

Those tactics have fallen out of fashion as consumers became more aware of them but the dark patterns we’re seeing now are, in my opinion, actually worse.

The comoditisation of basic services

Have you noticed that suddenly companies have started talking doing basic things as if its impressive? An energy company creating radio adverts to tell you that when you’ve got an appointment with a gas engineer, they’ll actually wait when they knock on the door rather than just leaving? Surely that’s not a service? Surely that’s something which anyone would do?

No, this is now a “free service”. And its marketed in such a way as to make it look like its something special. The reality is, that it’s what people would expect the engineer to do. You’ve got an appointment with them, you know they’re coming. You’ve likely been waiting for this appointment for a couple of weeks! So just because they happen to ring the doorbell when you’re in the bathroom surely doesn’t mean you should miss the appointment?

By turning “knock and wait” into something you have to request, what the company has done is given itself permission to “knock and leave” on anyone who hasn’t specifically requested that the engineer wait a couple of minutes for you to shut the dog out of the kitchen so they don’t get in the way. And maybe I’m just very cynical, but I also believe that they’ll be adding tighter time controls on their staff. If a job ran a bit over, and the staff member knows they’re tracked on time, they’re significantly more likely to “knock and run” in order to make the time up and not be penalised by their employer. Its not the staff’s fault. They’re held to often ridiculous timings and punished if they don’t meet targets. When “knock and wait” becomes optional rather than just part of good customer service, the company only encourages “knock and run”.

An arduous sign-up process.

What’s almost worse, is that to sign up to many services like these is deliberately off-putting. Download a PDF, print it, fill it in by hand, and then post. Having that as an option is always required but you should be able to sign-up quickly online. Anything more than a tickbox in your account settings is almost too much to request that the person you’ve booked to come to your house wait a couple of minutes for you to get to the door.

By having this way of signing up as the only method, they’re actively trying to prevent people from using this service. It’s now only available to those who own a printer (or have ink in it), or those who can edit a PDF. It’s also not a trackable process. You can’t tell if they’ve received your application, if it’s being processed, if it’s been actioned, or anything at all about it!

I understand needing more information for those with other requirements, but for “knock and wait” it should be as simple as ticking a box.