OPINION21 November 2023

Crawford Hollingworth: Eyes wide open

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Behavioural science Features Impact Opinion UX

The Impact columnist examines the impact of ‘sludge’ and other negative uses of behavioural science and how researchers can keep sludge at bay.

Stage light

I have written previously about the need to use behavioural science carefully; to not abuse its power to influence behaviour. But now the darker side of behavioural science – the world of dark patterns and sludge – is becoming increasingly sophisticated and we need to work harder, as researchers, to identify and call out these dark patterns.

Thirteen years ago, user experience (UX) consultant Harry Brignull sat at his kitchen table to collect examples of what he called ‘dark patterns’ – deceptive or manipulative online techniques that create such levels of friction that it obstructs our best efforts to do something that’s in our interest, such as cancelling an unneeded subscription, making a payment, completing an application form, or selecting a product or service that best meets our needs.

Dark patterns, also known as sludge, are increasingly common. EU researchers recently found that 40% of 399 websites they surveyed contained manipulative practices – from fake countdown timers to ...