It’s a topic I’ve mentionedbefore, but here’s another round-up of the ways web design can be quite manipulative.
The rise of dark web design: how sites manipulate you into clicking – The Conversation Dark design has proven to be an incredibly effective way of encouraging web users to part with their time, money and privacy. This in turn has established “dark patterns”, or sets of practices designers know they can use to manipulate web users. They’re difficult to spot, but they’re increasingly prevalent in the websites and apps we use every day, creating products that are manipulative by design, much like the persistent, ever-present pop-ups we’re forced to close when we visit a new website.
How dark patterns trick you online – Nerdwriter1: YouTube Some of the responsibility’s on us, but some is on design too. And it’s not the fault of the designers; they’re just doing what they’re tasked to do, knowing full well that if they don’t, others will. As Brignull says, our best defence against the dark patterns is to be aware of them and shame the companies who utilise them.
So says this article from The New York Times — way back in 2001.
Exploration of World Wide Web tilts from eclectic to mudane – The New York Times The new utilitarian view of the Web marks a disappointment for cultural critics who see the medium as fundamentally more democratic than traditional radio, television and newspapers, because the barriers to entry are so low. The Web was supposed to subvert corporate domination of culture by giving a global soapbox — or printing press or television station — to anyone with a computer and a modem. While plenty of people do publish their personal musings and pictures of their babies, new data shows that for many people, the Web has become an electronic routine.
It certainly looks different these days, as this tongue-in-cheek recreation shows.
But there are still glimpses of the old web out there, if you know what URL to type — or mistype.
gail.com Q: Why isn’t there any content here? Can’t you at least throw up a picture of your cat for the Internet to check out? A: Sorry, I have a cat, but she’s pretty unexciting by Internet standards. As for why there is very little content here, we wanted to keep the server’s attack surface as small as possible to keep it safe.
Q: Interested in selling gail.com? A: Sorry, no.
Q: How did you manage to get gail.com? A: My husband registered it as a birthday gift back in 1996.
Q: How many times a day is this page visited? A: In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.
Q: Why is your website so popular? Are you one of those famous people that no one knows why they’re famous? A: No, I’m not famous. It seems likely that most visitors simply mistype gmail.com and end up visiting gail.com by mistake.
For curiousity’s sake, I right-clicked to ‘view page source’ of this anachronistic little website and was rewarded with this little comment, hence the header image of this post.
Quirky, hand-written html is something I definitely miss from the old web.
You don’t normally associate McDonald’s with minimalism, but these new billboard ads are pretty cut back, to say the least. No photos, no logos, no branding.
These ads make you think of McDonald’s with just 5 words and 5 colours – Digital Arts
The messaging is equally simple. It isn’t introducing ‘healthy’ options, a new burger, offer or competition – or putting the idea of McDonalds as comfort food in your mind. It’s just designed to catch your eye, bring a moment of delight at the recognition of what you’re seeing and make you think of picking up a McDonalds on the way home or stopping during a long journey.
I admit I find these ads quite appealing. The product, not so much.
Google’s being sneaky again. Last year I shared an article about research into ‘dark patterns’, sneaky user interface tricks that shopping websites use to catch us out. It seems the search advertising giant is getting in on the act now.
Google’s ads just look like search results now – The Verge
Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.
Indeed, when I search for pet insurance, I can hardly see any real search results without scrolling down.
The Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler said the Federal Trade Commission sent letters in 2013 to Google and other search engines saying the distinction between ads and organic search results had become “less noticeable to consumers.” In the letters, the FTC told the companies to “make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising.”
I’d say those letters have been completely ignored, wouldn’t you?
Seeming to lift a page from Kumi Yamashita’s sketchbook, the BBC have brought Dracula to life in this spooky 3D poster for their gripping new series.
BBC’s ‘Dracula’ gets push with clever marketing campaign – My Modern Met Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well-known tale, which is why ad executives in the UK needed to get creative when coming up with a campaign for the BBC’s new series. Dracula premiered on New Year’s Day and in the lead-up to the event, BBC Creative dreamed up an eye-catching billboard that gets spookier as the sun goes down.
Just as vampires only appear at night, there’s no trace of Dracula as the sun shines. Instead, once night falls, his sinister shadow emerges across the billboard. Mouth open wide and fangs out, there’s no mistaking the silhouette of the show’s lead character.
The executives at BBC Creative were looking for a fresh take on the classic tale as a way to get viewers engaged in the new series. Located in Birmingham and London, the two billboards are an exciting, out-of-the-box vision that pairs well with the series’ dark humor.
It’s 2020 and you’re in the future – Wait But Why
It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.
To give us a sense of the decade we’ve just left behind, here, via Kottke, is a list of all the best ‘best of’ lists, if that makes sense.
Here’s an extra one to add to the list, before our futuristic hubris catches up with us.
From Glass to Fire Phone, these were the decade’s top tech flops – Wired UK
Facebook Portal: In 2018, though, a scandal-infected Facebook was attempting to put out fire after fire – the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian troll ads, the UN’s report on its role in Myanmar. With Facebook the absolute worst word in privacy and trust, no-one wanted a Facebook camera and microphone in their homes, especially one which the company admitted would track call data in order to serve ads to users.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything. Multi-million pound losses and the end of the company, at one time one of the most trusted in the UK.
Under a new promotion, that same £100 Hoover purchase could net a UK-based customer two free round-trip flights to New York or Orlando — a package worth £600+ (£1200, or $1,460 USD, today).
When Hoover ran this plan by risk management professionals, the company was warned that it would be an absolute disaster.
“To me it made no logical sense,” recalled Mark Kimber, one of the consultants. “Having looked at the details of the promotion [and] attempting to calculate how it would actually work I declined to even offer risk management coverage.”
A quick look at the numbers. What were they thinking?
A new advertising campaign from Penguin that nicely off-sets yesterday’s article about unwittingly putting kids off reading—a set of posters celebrating the “life-affirming relationship that forms between a reader and the books they’ve loved over the years.”
Penguin celebrates dog-eared delights in new Happy Reading campaign
“The books are the ‘talent’ in this campaign,” Sam tells It’s Nice That. “Every reader has had the experience of falling in love with one and we wanted to showcase books that demonstrated evidence of these relationships and that told stories beyond those printed on their pages, whether through their cracked spines, dog-eared pages or the furiously scribbled notes in their margins.”
And in some cases, these firms openly advertise deceptive marketing techniques, describing ways to generate fake product orders and social messages celebrating those fake orders.
These are their proposed categories of user-interface tricks.
Sneaking Attempting to misrepresent user actions, or delay information that if made available to users, they would likely object to.
Urgency Imposing a deadline on a sale or deal, thereby accelerating user decision-making and purchases.
Misdirection Using visuals, language, or emotion to steer users toward or away from making a particular choice.
Social proof Influencing users’ behavior by describing the experiences and behavior of other users.
Scarcity Signalling that a product is likely to become unavailable, thereby increasing its desirability to users.
Obstruction Making it easy for the user to get into one situation but hard to get out of it.
Forced Action Forcing the user to do something tangential in order to complete their task.
‘Urgency’ and ‘scarcity’ sound like pretty standard advertising methods that we should be very used to by now, but some of those others are very dubious. Here are some screenshots from the research paper.
Fig. 3. Three types of the Sneaking category of dark patterns.
Fig. 5. Four types of the Misdirection category of dark patterns.
What can be done? Here’s one idea they discuss in the paper which I like the sound of.
Fig. 10. Mockup of a possible browser extension that can be developed using our data set. The extension flags instances of dark patterns with a red warning icon. By hovering over the icon, the user can learn more about the specific pattern.
Is this a reversal of the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’? Now you can eat what you are.
Burger King trolls McDonald’s while nodding to mental health issues in new campaign
One of the joys of a big brand rivalry must be the chance every now and again to get one over on your nemesis through a catty campaign – or to try to at least. This week Burger King has stepped up to the plate, waving a red rag to its biggest foe McDonald’s with the launch of five “Real Meal” boxes, a cheeky rip of McDonald’s famous Happy Meal. Including Pissed, Blue, Salty Meal, YAAAS and DGAF (that’s “don’t give a f–k” to save you the Urban Dictionary trip), the new boxes allow customers to order a Whopper based on their mood, alluding to the fact that many people ordering a “Happy” Meal are far from it.
In a manner reminiscent of Loving Vincent, Em Cooper has created a wonderful short animation for a Berghaus ad campaign.
Em Cooper is a live-action filmmaker working with oil paint
“I was actually on a walk in Cornwall when the detail of how I would make it came into my mind. I wanted every transformation to feel natural and effortless — the transitions working like silent slippages of paint with the brushstrokes loosening just a touch and then reforming quietly into the next moment. It is painstaking and labour-intensive work: I hand paint every single frame individually, but the results are magical, and I think viewers can sense the time and effort that has gone into it.”
Rhett Jones from Gizmodo strikes a cautionary note about Apple’s positioning following Facebook’s recent data sharing controversies.
Apple isn’t your friend In its own deliberate fashion, Apple appears to see a market opportunity in the privacy debate that goes beyond polishing its own image. As headlines blared about Facebook’s latest data-sharing turmoil, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has been quietly planning to launch a new advertising network for the past year. It’s said to be a re-imagining of its failed iAd network that was shuttered in 2016.
Generally, more competition is welcome. If Apple is giving Facebook and Google headaches, we say that’s great. But it’s a thorny issue when we’re talking about a few billion-dollar companies exchanging places on the ladder as they strive to be trillion-dollar companies. It’s just not enough for the least bad megacorp to keep the evil ones in check.
Russell Davies on the backward steps we’ve taken with how we relate to the web.
Let’s make the grimy architecture of the web visible again
And, for a while, domain names and URLs became part of the fun of the web. While the more commercial parts of town got excited about the money changing hands for cars.com, the bohemian quarters were creating baroque constructions like del.icio.us or mucking about with ridiculously domains. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as when I realised I could buy agoodplaceforacupofteaandathink.com. Surely, I thought, this must already have been snapped up. And then the URL shorteners arrived. […]
It’s increasingly apparent that a more digitally literate citizenry would be good for a thousand different reasons. A great way to start would be to make URLs visible again, to let people see the infrastructure they’re living in. Perhaps it’s time for some pro-URL sloganising: Beneath The Shorteners, The Web!
Agreed. Another example of this has been prevalent in TV and radio advertising for a while now — adverts ending with calls to search specific keywords or hashtags, rather than directing potential customers to web addresses. As well as reinforcing this move to de-emphasise URLs, dumbing-down the internet and creating more reliance on search engines, it can also work against those companies themselves.
The lunacy of search term CTAs in TV ads
Additionally, it is very difficult to dominate page one of the search results for those generic terms. Taking the Mini Original commercial shown above, the search query they told viewers to search for online was ‘New Original’. When conducting this search on Google, the first page of results are no where near dominated by Mini. As you can see from the screenshot below, seven of the listings are nothing to do with the car.
TechCrunch has a summary of the latest report from Google on its attempts to clear up its mess. Some of the numbers are incredible.
In 2017, Google removed 3.2B ‘bad ads’ and blocked 320K publishers, 90K sites, 700K mobile apps Google also removed 130 million ads for malicious activity abuses, such as trying to get around Google’s ad review. And 79 million ads were blocked because clicking on them led to sites with malware, while 400,000 sites containing malware were also removed as part of that process. Google also identified and blocked 66 million “trick to click” ads and 48 million ads that tricked you into downloading software.
Sounds impressive, but that’s not all they’re trying to tackle currently.
The bad ads report publication comes in the wake of Google taking a much more proactive stance tackling harmful content on one of its most popular platforms, YouTube. In February, the company announced that it would be getting more serious about how it evaluated videos posted to the site, and penalising creators a through a series of “strikes” if they were found to be running afoul of Google’s policies.
The strikes have been intended to hit creators where it hurts them most: by curtailing monetising and discoverability of the videos.
This week, Google started to propose a second line of attack to try to raise the level of conversation around questionable content: it plans to post alternative facts from Wikipedia alongside videos that carry conspiracy theories (although it’s not clear how Google will determine which videos are conspiracies, and which are not).
That sounds quite intractable. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
People Too create striking paper sculptures for Amnesty’s brutality campaign Their deceptively delicate and very intricate creations for Amnesty International’s Fan the Flame campaign, which are fashioned entirely from white paper. Depicting acts of violence and brutality with a quiet poignancy that is hard to match is any other medium, the detailed sculptures all the more impressive for their impermanence.