Booking.com Loves Dark Patterns 🖤

Brent Johnson
3 min readJul 14, 2020

A Dark Pattern is when a user experience tries to trick a user into doing something the company wants them to do.

Dark patterns can either be incredibly clever or horrifyingly terrible (maybe at the same time), depending on which side of the fence you sit on. There is a lot of psychology that goes into designing dark patterns, and they tend to work because it takes advantage of how users will naturally react or are trained to respond to other non-dark pattern user experiences (read about all of the dark patterns here).

Love it, or hate it, dark patterns exist and online travel companies (OTAs) like them. Different travel companies provide experiences which thrive on user’s anxiety by bombarding users with urgency messing around room scarcity/availability.

Some websites go as far as to take up valuable screen real estate on their search result page to show properties that aren’t even available. They do this to reinforce messaging that properties are booking up quickly and if you don’t book now, you’ll miss out.

Urgency Messaging Galore

Expedia.com follows a similar pattern to Booking.com where they highlight how quickly a user needs to book. I’ve also highlighted a pop-up window, which triggers a new browser window that’s primarily an ad.

Urgency Messaging & Ad Window

You could argue that urgency messaging isn’t inherently a dark pattern, and I agree with that argument. However, online travel sites have been marred with distrust over these types of messages because of the lack of transparency. From users interviews we’ve done, this style of massage works but users ask “Is there really one room left, or are they just making this up so I book now?

My background was leading the product management and UX teams at an ecommerce software as a service (saas) firm. The clients were small to medium businesses who relied on repeat purchasers.

So for me, it was black and white, and dark patterns were black. If our software helped trick a user…

Brent Johnson

Brent is a SaaS general manager turned product leader. Director of Product Management @ Maple (www.getmaple.ca)