22 examples of evil design


Chris Nodder's book 'Evil by Design' struck a chord in the minds of both designers and laypeople by discussing how designers can tap into the seven deadly sins that hold humans in thrall.

Don Norman explains in the Foreword why design should be based on evil: 'Simple: Starting with evil means starting with real human behavior. This doesn't mean the result is evil: it means understanding what each sin represents adds to an understanding of people.' And Chris himself defines evil design as: '...that which creates purposefully designed interfaces that make users emotionally involved in doing something that benefits the designer more than them.'

We're running a competition to give this book away, so we asked people to tell us their favorite examples of evil and persuasive design. Everyone has a slightly different take on the concept of 'evil' design, which makes for a fascinating and varied list. Enjoy!

Microtransactions — pay or wait baby!

'Microtransactions have to be one of the best examples of persuasive design out there. These are typically offered in small amounts at JUST the right time - usually when you have the choice to either put in X amount of time/effort or pay a teency amount to have it now. The booming industry of apps like Clash of Clans are a testament to this persuasion — 'Do you want to wait 4 days for your cannon to upgrade, or give us $5.00 worth of in-game currency to HAVE IT NOW?' —Tristan

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'Candy Crush- seems like such an innocent game, when it's actually a sophisticated slot machine. Evil!' — Ora Peled

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'The one that has recently been bothering me (because it's so good and devious) is in the TwoDots app - your lives are replenished with time, but you lose them faster than you regain them. So you play for a bit, get just frustrated enough (or make enough progress) that you want to keep playing, and then run out of lives. You have to wait. Or buy more lives. If you wait, you get a push notification when your lives are replenished, encouraging you to come back. Start vicious cycle.' — Ian

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Buzzfeed — stealing time since 2006

'I don't know if it's good or evil, but Buzzfeed is one of those places that once I go in, there is no coming back out for a half hour or more. I enter the website thinking 'I'll just read this interesting article' and find that there are several interesting articles just waiting for me to click on them when I'm done. Scratch that, they're not waiting and there is no choice of whether I'll click on them, because I'm already onto the next article before I realize it. The transition between where I have been and where I'm going is so smooth that there is no struggle for the user (ie. me). It's great!' — Destiny Yarbro

Buzzfeed logo

Beautiful design is evil (in a beautiful way)

'The World of Swiss website is very well executed. It simply draws you deeper and deeper into the site, an incredible example of a paralax site' — Vera

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The Dadaab Stories website because through brilliant design it gets you to read multiple amazing stories.' — @blazing

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'My favorites have always been the design patterns that persuade by delight and pleasant surprises. Even though direct, causal design patterns may contribute in a direct way, I find delightful patterns contribute more indirectly, and provide a far more subtle method of persuasion. Look at how companies like Apple, Vimeo and others uses delight to help users tolerate occasionally inferior experiences by supplying delightful moments at random intervals.' — @wheelyweb

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'My favorite example of persuasive design is that described by Simon Sinek in his TedTalk speech, and implemented by Apple, e.g. 'You are more powerful than you think', used to catch the attention of potential customers and build loyalty with existing ones... focused on the iPhone5 product.' — Candaceps

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'Duolingo's landing page is great. Short and sweet. One line of engaging copy, one call to action. Bam.' — Mahatch

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'Volkswagen — their long scrolling, well divided pages, encourage interaction and really grab user's attention. It's hard to visit the page without scrolling down to see more details and pictures, it makes me want to see what's available or price out a new car, every time!' — Julie

Volkswagen car website

Amazon and the art of persuasion

'Amazon's 'If you liked this, others also liked' (good and evil), makes you consider buying more than you intended and gets you to stay on the site longer by visiting and reading about another item...very sticky!' — GJ

'A combination of good and evil. Deception (evil) is not only meant to deceive people in a negative light. Sometimes it is okay to deceive people if it is in their best interests. For Example: Amazon would display a book online, stating that there are 'only 4 copies in stock'. This persuades people into purchasing a book that would benefit them (good) and in turn benefits Amazon in making that sale (good). Used correctly, incorporating good and evil persuasive design into your design, marketing will result in positive outcomes with 0 - very little negative effect on the customer and the company who is selling the book online.' —@NazeerF

'Amazon's 'customers also bought...' list of items. Works every time.' — Jill Bateman

'Evil — Amazon's one click checkout makes it way to easy to purchase something you might not otherwise.' — Holli Elizabeth


Apps that help you live the good life

'Fitbit's One™ Wireless Activity + Sleep Tracker This device starts your day by counting steps for you. The goal is 10,000 steps per day. The device counts your every step including stair steps toward your total step goal. When you reach a certain number of steps you are reinforced with praise. You would be surprised at how many steps an average day would consume. With that in mind it is easy to add on the little bit of extra walking or stair climbing that needs to be done to reach the 10,000 step goal. Fit bit is a persuasive friend.' — Dana Lynn

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'My favorite example of persuasive UI design is simple.com. It very simply addresses and resolves all of my major concerns.' — Nick Bluth

'The goal-setting interface in Simple's mobile app (simple.com) have made incremental, daily budgeting easy for me. My wife and I just took a vacation that we've been saving for, and it's the first vacation in a few years that was 100% saved for before we traveled.' — Jason Robinson

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Default tick boxes designed to trick

How some newsletter signups switch between opting in and opting out from one line to the next. E.g. "Tick here if you want to sign up to our newsletter" then: "Tick here if you want to receive our partners' updates" followed by: "Tick here if you do not want your details to be passed on to third parties" It is done so sneakily and the phrasing tends to be intentionally confusing that I feel myself double or triple checking what I have agreed to every time! Evil, but it works.' @luxylike

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'Least FAVE, as it's EVIL, is setting defaults to a selection with a tangible $$ cost, then making the user DE-select to make sure s/he doesn't pay for something they don't want. I see this most often with add-on insurance for travel as well as extended warranties for products. It's just plain WRONG in my book, and at times, has caused me to pursue other sellers who don't try that evil persuasive crap.' — Tater

'The way the airline booking webpages default to adding fees to your reservation - you have to uncheck the box and click the small link instead of the large button to just keep your reservation without added fees! EVIL!' — Lisa Wald

'The UK budget flight company, Easy Jet. No matter how many times I used that site, I was always surprised by how quickly I chose a flight and paid for extras, not realizing it until checkout!' — Julie

easyjet default ticks

Images that guide the eye, guide the heart

'I like how Netflix used the gaze of the people in the main picture to draw attention to the call to action. It's an old one they used, so here's the screenshot.' — Djuhlin

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'We sell Pet Insurance (amongst other products). Recently we were trying to improve our conversion funnel so we added a picture of a cat to one of the pages in the flow. No other changes were made. Conversion from that page to the next improved 30% with a corresponding annual revenue increase of 300k. This led to many jokes about the office about what other pages we should put cat pictures on.' — Andrew

cat pictures sell

Fashion, the great temptress

'When I look at the new Fall fashion on the J Crew site, put an incredibly beautiful item in my shopping cart but then decide not to buy it because it's too expensive. Fast forward a couple of hours, I receive a lovely crafted email showing me the coveted item again and wondering if I'd like to buy it now. And of course I do! I'm weak.' — @k_arin

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'Marks and Spencer — personal shopper for helping me find clothes based on preference. Evil — because it totally encourages me to buy things I don't need!' — Shirley

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Peer pressure and social proof — we're swayed by people

'Peer pressure — on Facebook the most off-putting aspect of me sharing anything is the fear that my friends will think I am 'spamming' them - however, the converse of this is the way Facebook tries to compel me to do things because (it tells me), "the following people have ..." - and it's the same people I don't want to offend!' — Winzurf

'Social proof — the 'others who bought this also liked...' messages always work on me. I enjoy seeing what other people enjoy (they don't even have to be people I know). — Lolson

'Social proof would be an obvious candidate here - the gambling I work on displays various forms of proof for its games (jackpot values or number of players online at any one time). However, the drawback here is that every site in that sector does it so it tends to become a form of white noise.' — Richard

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Don't push the shiny red button after dark

'Sitting at a bar of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, I played a pokie machine while waiting for a drink. I put some money into the machine. The room was darkly lit, it was late, the buttons to control the pokie where hard to see. Only one button has a backlight which makes it easy see. All of the buttons on the interface work. The button that is backlit is the 'Bet All' button. All the buttons work, but the one they obviously want to to press is 'Bet All'. Needless to say it was persuasive, effective, and evil.' — Hunterjs

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Persuasive design in our daily lives

'Rumble strips are simple and effective. Unobtrusive to everyone except the person who's being affected by them, then extremely effective. Makes an activity very undesirable without being impossible. Needs almost no explanation.'

rumble strip

'I find the user interface of glass milk bottles pretty persuasive :) You always know how much milk is left and also they make good granola or pasta containers once empty and clean.' — C. Kuhr

Samantha Sweet art

Tell us your favorite examples of evil design in the comments...

Published on Aug 01, 2014
Kathryn Reeves

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