Booking.com Loves Dark Patterns 🖤
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 from 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.
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.
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, they’d ultimately be unhappy with the company they bought from, and they wouldn’t buy from them again.
After I worked in the online travel industry for a few years, I sit somewhere in the middle. I still dislike dark patterns; however, I think the psychology behind the designs is clever.
The challenge is always balancing the user’s experience with honesty while using the effectiveness of UX for sustainable business growth. I think the common thought is that dark UX won’t be sustainable, however, Booking.com proves that worry is unfounded.
Brent is a SaaS general manager turned product leader, passionate about how technology can enhance our daily lives. With over 10 years of product experience in the B2B and B2C Software Industry, he has assisted in building innovative software technologies by leading Product, UX, and UI teams. Along the way, Brent has helped product and development teams evolve from scrappy start-ups to thriving corporations, driving several M&A deals along the way.