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Enough with "Dark Patterns" Already!

Your Naming Conventions Are Suspect

"The colors black and white have long carried opposite connotations. Black has connoted evil and disgrace, while white has connoted decency and purity."
Longshore, D. (1979). Color Connotations and Racial Attitudes. Journal of Black Studies, 10(2), 183–197. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2784327 *

The history of the term "dark patterns" as far as I can tell goes back to 2010 when Harry Brignull, a UX designer set up darkpatterns.org, a resource to highlight patterns and anti-patterns on the web.

Brignull since then has rebranded his site to deceptive.design in an attempt to use a more inclusive term for the pratice of deception and deceiving users.

Many articles can be found if you search for the term "dark Pattern" and some even highlight Brignull and his steering away from a term that is exclusionary and harmful. These articles want to "stick to calling them dark patterns" because "the term dark pattern has more traction" to quote one article.

To quote Kim Crayton, "Tech is not neutral." and "Unremarkably mediocre white dudes" it sure isn't and I am one of those unremarkably mediocre white dudes.

White guys doing white guy things, since tech was built by whote guys and is white guy majority in the spots where all the decisions are made and how things are run, it's not surprising that white guys want to still carry this torch (not a tiki torch, although it might as well be) to the end.

Tech is not neutral and it is political. So if you have lasted this long let's get into why this thinking is problematic and what I propose we do as a community of professionals on the web.

It is 2022 and we are still, in most places with most people, using the word "dark" when it comes to anti-patterns on the Web. Why? Is it because some white dudes just do not want to embrace change, as they always carry themselves to do?

Is it because we, as a white society does not wish to embrace the change of a language that has the worst of meaning, origin, and racism?

Your naming conventions are highly suspect.

Racists are usually uncomfortable talking about racism. They immediately curl up like a cat cornered in a bathroom thinking you are going to throw it into the tub full of water. So when I see white dudes in my travels online, especially in the Twitterspace, they are usually recoiling in self-defense when the issue of race or racism is involved in the conversation.

Sorry to burst your little tech bubles kids, but the Web is political. Programming is political. Accessibility is political. Your job is political.

"Why do we have to bring politics into this?"

Oh, you didn't know?! Tech is political. Therefore, the impetus of me writing this article is to address one of those little corners of our world. User Experience (UX) and the use of the term, "dark patterns".

Dark isn't just a word in the dictionary, oh no. It is also been known to have designated racial groups since the days when this country was "founded". Along with black, dark and black was the norm and their connotations may well reinforce social norms pertaining to those groups(*).

The reasoning behind the usage of the term can be anywhere from, "What does it matter? I don't see anything wrong with it." to "Why do people overreact to everything these days? Why can't people not look into things with a microscope?"

White dudes automatically go on the defensive letting people know about the discomfort they are feeling and they look to others cut from the same cloth for comfort. For validation and for support. That's a huge part of the problem.

Why stray from the norm? Why change something that has been "industry standard" since they started their web careers? Fear. Fear of change and fear of being inclusive. So the reasons don't matter, just as long as their discomfort gets them what they want.

There are reasons. The history of the United States, the history of Black people and other people that are underrepresented on and in the Web. The words that have negative connotation towards a select group of people.

We have all heard about it. We all have our biases and opinions, and yet we still, as an industry, clutch to our stringed pearls when someone wants to change something for the betterment of good and inclusion and accessibility.

Deceptive. It's okay to use the word

I'm a child of the seventies. I grew up with people that would tell me to suck it up and get used to it. That's the kind of attitude I see permeate through tech to this very day. Especially with the white guys. It's the entitlement. It's the air of ego and of that they are the "alpha male".

Whether they want to admit it or not, I had to. I had to look inward at myself and the way I donducted myself and the things I said and wrote. It's been a twenty year process. It has been all about change.

Change the words, change the attitudes, change the ego, swallow your pride or drown. It's okay to use the word "deceptive", it really is.

I've seen and heard the term thrown around loosely. Loosely as in here and there around Twitter and other places and writings. But never really seeing it take hold in the mainstream. Why? It's time to sunset the old "dark" term and use something that does not invoke negative connotations, words, thoughts, inflections. Period.

Andy Vitale brought up the subject in 2020 and this made me pause then think. There needed to be some kind of change. I agreed with Andy in his tweet, I even think we briefly discussed it but cannot find the tweets (maybe in a DM?).

It's moved into the mainstream

Media outlets online pick up on articles and the terminology fast and they write and publish articels at the same rate. "Dark" has permeated the search engines and we need to change this.

I can see many articles that specifically use "dark" in its headline. "FTC Report Shows Rise In Sophisticated Dark Patterns Designed to Trick and Trap Consumers" for one. Even Wikipedia has an entry for this.

It's time to get rid of the language. Whether it is "deceptive design patterns" or "deceptive patterns" or something else. We need to remove "dark" from the terminology. It doesn't make s sense to begin with.

Definition is everything

According to Dictionary.com, dark is:

adjective, dark·er, dark·est.

  1. having very little or no light: a dark room.
  2. radiating, admitting, or reflecting little light: a dark color.
  3. approaching black in hue: a dark brown.

noun

  1. the absence of light; darkness: I can't see well in the dark.
  2. night; nightfall: Please come home before dark.

verb (used with object)

  1. to make dark; darken.

verb (used without object)

  1. Obsolete. to grow dark; darken.

Why are we using "dark"?! There is no sense to it whatsoever. A pattern or an anti-pattern designed to trick users, whether it is with or without intent, is deceptive. It is a deceptive practice.

Not "dark" like Halloween spooky or scary, not without light, not due to color. None of those. None!

My current work behind Deceptive Patterns

I have brought the term to the W3C in out quest to recognize spots in WCAG that need to be filled. Enter the Framework for Accessibile Specification of Technologies (FAST).

Those patterns or anti-patterns that are used to trick users. Those patterns and anti-patterns that cause harm whether with or without intent. Because it happens in this day and age whether we want to acknowledge it or not. It is there.

The challenge here is filling those gaps because there could be a thousand different use cases to fill a gap. It's work, a lot of work. It's work that I am willing to do though.

Just stop it

Stop using "dark". It's easy to do. Maybe it is not easy for those that are still using "master" in their git repos or those that cling to the "Cleveland Indians", or those that do the tomahawk chop in Atlanta or at Florida State, or in Kansas City.

People can do this. We are capable of adaptation and change. We're in a world that is so divided but the fact of the matter is we all have to be here until we are not. So why not make it a lot more inclsuive and a lot more accessible for everyone instead of being a remarkably mediocre white dudes game?