6 Evil UX Things Companies Do (That Also Happen to Work)

Good UX vs. Evil UX

There are two sides to everything. Heads and tails. Yin and Yang. Jay and Silent Bob.

And in UX, particularly in interface design, there’s a subtle difference between “giving the user what they want” and “manipulating the user to give you what you want”.

In a perfect world, these would be one in the same. And well operated websites can approach this feeling. I imagine that Amazon feels pretty good every time somebody uses their 1-click system.

But there are websites out there – that we all use – that engage in the darker art of user manipulation. Evil UX. This can range from the benign to the malignant, so lets look at this crazy cast of characters of the UX underworld.

Before we get started, I wanted to mention that the inspiration (and indeed a lot of the heavy lifting) for this article came from darkpatterns.org. For a more in-depth look at this topic, be sure to visit their site.

6. Opt-In by Default

Let’s be honest. At some point, we’re probably going to do this little puppy. It’s pre-checking an option. For most of us, this is something like joining an email list. And while annoying, and not exactly user friendly, it works like all hell.

If you think that’s wording it a little strongly, let me point you to a graph that illustrates how you can shut the hell up.

opt-in rates for donors

What the above chart shows is that in countries where people have to opt-in to be an organ donor, donor rates are very low. They range between 4.25-27.5%. But when someone has to opt-out of being a donor, the donor rates skyrocket to nearly 100%, except in Sweden, which either proves that the Swedish are sticklers about government forms or that they have something in particular against donating their organs. Pfft. Swedes. They must be holding out to come back as Aryan Zombies.

But even taking into account the future zombie Swedes, the difference between opt-in and opt-out is clear. No wonder companies do it.

5. Disguised Ads

Disguised Ads are ads that look like something you want, but instead are in fact, advertisements. I see this all the time on The Pirate Bay. (If you’ve never heard of or have been to The Pirate Bay, welcome to the Internet.)


Now, you might argue that people downloading movies illegally have this kind of crap coming to them, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is crap.

4. Sneak Into Basket

I’ve only seen this on what can charitably be described as a scammy feeling website. And this behavior is no different. I mean, it directly falls under the category of “I want my users to hate me”.

sneak into basket

The idea is simple: Add something to the cart and they add a companion product automatically forcing the user to remove it from their cart if they don’t want to buy it. For those who aren’t paying close attention, now they have to go through the difficult process of trying to send back the item that was snuck into the cart.

If you’re a business that does this, you should know, your users hate you and hope you go out of business. I’m just sayin’…

3. Roach Motel

A roach motel is something that’s easy to get involved with but a total pain in the ass to quit. We found ourselves victims of one of these crimes of douchebaggery the other day by none other than fax.com. I’d link to them but I don’t want to give them the link juice.

fax.com is bad

It’s easy, peazy, 1-2-3 to get started but to quit, it takes half a day and involves having to speak to a representative.

Don’t do this. Be more like Good Guy Hulu.

Good Guy Hulu

If you don’t use reddit, you’ll may need this to understand the reference.

2. Forced Continuity

If you’re a company that offers a free trial with credit card, you’re hoping for some forced continuity. You’re banking on the fact that once a user starts, they won’t want to stop (or more likely that they’ll forget about stopping).

What’s the difference between being a Good Guy Greg or a Scumbag Steve with the whole situation? It all comes down to how you treat your users.

If you give your users a good experience: give them plenty of notification before billing starts and/or you make it easy to cancel, then its easy to believe that you have the user’s interests at heart. But if you bill without notifying the user or make the user jump through a bunch of hoops to quit you, then you’re banking that a portion of them will just say “screw it, I’ll do it later” and your lifetime customer value will go up. And while this is true, know that AOL used to be a mighty company but made it suck for people to leave. In turn, people hated AOL and then for some reason only grandparents used it.

Don’t be that company. And by that company, I mean, don’t be like freecreditreport.com. Another company who I’m not going to link to.


1. Forced Disclosure

Have you ever felt like a company was asking for your information out of order? Like, they wanted a credit card right up front and all of your other information afterward? That’s forced disclosure. Or maybe a company wants a ton of information from you in return for a “free” or low-cost item. This happens a lot in the app world currently. This is a case of a company trying to get information from you to either use in further, ongoing marketing, or to sell.

scumbag hubspot

As an example, take HubSpot. They make amazing guides, eBooks, and whitepapers. But holy jumpin’ jehoshaphat… why do they need my phone number and to know about my company? It’s too much fellas. Too much. Yes, I’m downloading it but you’re asking for way too much. I don’t think we’re friends. And I don’t know what you’re going to sell me, but I’m already wary.

My email address is fair, but my phone number? You’re trying to take this to a different level, and I’m not sure I’m cool with that.

This, in turn, hurts your credibility.


Learn these methods so you’ll know how to design ethically. And as a user, know these methods so you’re not a sucka, sucka!

10 comments on “6 Evil UX Things Companies Do (That Also Happen to Work)

  1. Define “work” as used in the title.

    This is maybe the worst thing about UX design today. It’s too tied to stupid metrics from the client, like current-visit conversion rates. How many people who are forced/tricked into one of these has a good satisfaction, and visits again? Whoops! No one much asks that.

    Forget ethics. Pissing off your customers is not a good business model.

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  3. Hi Ben!

    Great to see you are posting great content – loved the topic. I particularly liked that you gave examples through companies and were visual. I think that’s crucial when you’re explaining UX – what’s hot and what’s not. Keep it up!

    Warm Regards,

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  6. Ben,
    Just stumbled upon your website this morning while looking for cool tools that integrate well with bootstrap styling on an existing site. After doing some research I stuck around for a little more reading. Your wit is refreshing, especially when wrapped around relevant content, keep up the good work, sucka!

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