What would you rather do with your gift?

Facebook was in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, and its collection of data and its usage have always been controversial. In the past Facebook has been found using dark patters to get what it wants – and preventing user from carrying out actions that it doesn’t want.

Dark Patterns

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to. In other words, designers use dark patterns to influence users to take actions that they would not take intentionally.

Of course, it is not Facebook alone. Among others, professional social networking site LinkedIn has used dark patterns quite often. Dan Schlosser has written a wonderful in-depth article about LinkedIn dark patterns and in another article, Chris Awad has written how LinkedIn dark patterns are getting darker. It is almost impossible to delete your account on Naukri.com as well. All these sites, apps use the tricks in interface design to force a user to do what they want, and prevent user from doing what they don’t want. The image below illustrates how Trip Advisor is using the dark patterns.

Trip Advisor - Dark pattern (PC: Tales from the Dark Side)
Fig. 1. Screenshots of the Tripadvisor mobile app. (a) shows the starting page. Note the small “Skip” button in the upper right corner. (b) shows the requested personal information when logging in with Facebook. Some of the information is unnecessary for providing the service. (c) shows what happens after skipping the sign-in process.

Trip Advisor – Dark Patterns (PC: Tales from the Dark Side)

Design and design thinking can be used very effectively to solve almost any problem we face today within all the given constraints. Right from tangible objects to communication, there are plenty of examples how innovative designs have made our lives better.  In an earlier article titled In search of meaning on My Zen Path, I had mentioned that meaning is about understanding our connection with others, with this world. It is also finding how our work/contribution fits in the bigger picture. In simpler word – what difference do we make to this world through our work. For example, Mark Bustos, a barber from New York offers free haircuts to the poor and homeless on Sundays.

Defensive Architecture

I have already cited several examples of dark patterns from technology giants who have some of the brightest individuals working for them and how they use design to manipulate the user into doing what they desire. Here some more examples from ‘Defensive Architecture’a controversial urban design trend in which public spaces are constructed or altered to discourage people from using them in a way not intended by the owner. It is also known as hostile architecture, and most typically associated with aggression against the homeless. I am posting few photos here with comments, see how you feel when you see these photos and understand the intentions behinds these designs. If time permits, please explore few links provided in this article, they have their own stories. One of the older articles about defensive architecture was published in The Atlantic back in 2014. More recently in Feb 2018, CNN carried out a photo feature covering hostile architectures around the world.

Spikes under a road bridge – I have used this as the featured image as well. This image shows concrete spikes created under a road bridge to prevent homeless people from sleeping there or using that space. Similar spikes are installed outside Selfridges in Manchester, outside private flats on Southwark Bridge Road, London and many other places.

Concrete spikes under a road bridge in Guangzhou city, Guangdong, China. Photograph: Imaginechina/REX
Concrete spikes under a road bridge in Guangzhou city, Guangdong, China. (PC: Guardian)

Staircase in NYC – Bum-free studs on a staircase, to prevent people from sitting on the steps, NYC.

Bum-free studs on a staircase, to prevent people from sitting on the steps, NYC.
Bum-free studs on a staircase, to prevent people from sitting on the steps, NYC. (PC: Slate.com)

Park Benches – You may have seen benches like this before and thought that they had added some creative armrests. That’s not the case, these benches are actually modified to prevent homeless people using them for sleeping. Talk about creativity here on limiting the places the homeless people have to sleep.

Park benches to prevent sleeping (PC: Imgur.com)

Spikes in Mumbai – HDFC bank’s Fort (Mumbai) branch had installed similar spikes to prevent people from sleeping there. However, owing to public outrage over this solution, they decided to remove it.

Spikes installed in front of HDFC bank in Kalaghoda to keep away hawkers from the bank premises.  (PC: Indian Express)

What would you do?

I have just covered few examples of interface design and defensive architecture to show how effectively they have achieved what they were asked to do. In case of dark patterns, get users to do things that they wouldn’t do intentionally or prevent them from doing the undesired things. While in case of defensive design, they are successfully keeping the homeless away. Important question here is – is that the right thing to do?

Imagine you’re a gifted designer, what is it that you’d like to design? What kind of work, projects you would love to get associated with? What kind of contribution would you like to make to the world at large? What is it that you would rather do with your gift?


About the featured image:

I am using this image with gratitude from a news article by Guardian titled: Anti homeless spikes.