Dark pattern or dim user?

I’ve just encountered a stinky example of the Sneak into Basket dark pattern, courtesy of buymobilephones.net.

I visited their website, picked the phone and contract I wanted, and clicked ‘Add to basket’.

buymobilephones.net product page

The next view showed me my basket.

But look: a little line saying ‘Mobile phone insurance with 1st month free’ has been automagically added to my order.

buymobilephones.net basket

I didn’t spot that the insurance had been added. Why not?

First, my eye was drawn to the same picture of the HTC One S that I’d seen on the original page. Next to it appeared a summary of the contract details as a big blue link.

The insurance details appeared in the same plain black text as the supplementary information about my contract – I didn’t bother to read that far.

I scanned the amounts in the right-hand column; they included £0.00 for my contract plus delivery costs. Nothing about insurance.

The big green ‘£0.00′ final total, too, suggested that I hadn’t accidentally added anything else to my basket.

My eye skipped over the light grey paragraph below the green total; it looked like standard, dull terms and conditions info.

The final thing that caught my eye was the big, fat ‘Continue’ button, which I happily clicked.

The next screen was for payment and delivery details.

buymobilephones.net payment details

There was no further mention of insurance until I’d confirmed the order, by which time there was no option to cancel.

buymobilephones.net order confirmation

So: a combination of leading my eye to the pieces of information that I expected to see, and exploiting my preconception that light grey text is unimportant, led me to inadvertently buy insurance I didn’t want.

I should have read everything more carefully before confirming my order. But even so – sneaky!

Handy user interview tool: the parrot

At UX Brighton last night, Judy Rees introduced a very simple little technique for getting richer findings from user interviews. If you don’t already use it, it’s a potentially useful addition to the user research toolkit.

Judy calls the technique “parrot phrasing”, and it works like this.

Say you’re interviewing a user about their opinions on a particular topic. When they mention something you’d like to explore further, repeat back the last few words they said exactly as they said them, without paraphrasing. It might be appropriate to use a curious, inquiring tone of voice, depending on the context.

That’s it. The effect is that the interviewee is unobtrusively prompted to elaborate on things they’ve said.

Parrot image by DigitalART2 on Flickr

"...it should just work like Amazon?"

For example:

Interviewee: “…it’s quite difficult to keep up with everything, and I tend to find that I only shop for food once a week, what with all the usual evening stuff going on…”

Interviewer: “The usual evening stuff?”

Interviewee: “Yeah, giving the kids their dinner, cleaning up…it’s easier on Fridays because we’re both home from work early.”

Judy split us into pairs and we spent five minutes trying out the technique on each other. The consequences were interesting. As an interviewee, having my own words echoed back to me felt like part of a natural conversation, far more so than had the researcher used their own phrasing for questions.

It meant I was less conscious of being in an interview situation; I felt more in control, leading me to talk more freely and perhaps be less likely to say things that I thought the interviewer might be looking for.

Having my own words echoed back also gave me a subtle sense that the researcher was paying attention and respecting what I was saying. Again, this made me more likely to speak freely.

If you’re not convinced, go and try it out on someone now.

Parrot image by DigitalART2

Do you click on white space?

When landing on a web page, I sometimes click on a bit of spare white space before I do anything. It’s a sort of mental ‘reset’ for my mouse pointer, to reassure myself that the focus is on that window. I usually do it almost unconsciously, whilst beginning to attend to other things on the page.

But if that white space is clickable, I find myself accidentally activating things I didn’t know were there. I might be distracted with an unwanted popup, or worse, ushered off to a new page.

The new Google instant preview feature – the little magnifying glass that appears next to search results – is a case in point. Not only is the magnifying glass itself clickable, but so is a big chunk of white space next to it:

Google instant preview has clickable white space

My absent minded click on the white space suddenly causes an unexpected, distracting popup to appear:

Google - instant preview panel open

Of course, the Google example involves a trade-off. Fitts’ Law reminds us that big targets are good; forcing people to click precisely on the teeny magnifying glass would be a problem.

Maybe I’m the only weirdo in the world that clicks on white space. But in design, I think it’s worth considering the affordance of white space, and whether it should be clickable without clear warning.

Would you rather make a gesture or push a button?

A new Wired article looks at Nokia research into expanding the uses of accelerometers in phones. You could make an ‘F’ gesture in the air with your phone, for example, to launch its FM radio. You might use another gesture to lock your phone.

But a physical on-screen button tap has a distinct advantage … Read more

How to tell stories in fast-forward

I like the layout of Raph Koster’s classic game design book, A Theory of Fun. You get the choice of reading the full text of the book (on the left- hand pages) or a quick potted version in pictures, by flicking through the right-hand pages. I’m sure it’s an old tactic but I’ve never … Read more

So far so good…

I’ve finished all my MSc coursework for the first two terms, with a running average of 74%, so I’m on course for a Distinction so far. The future remains littered with bananaskins, though: my final project will count for around a third of my overall grade. Plenty still to do.

I had butterflies in … Read more

Just use a pencil, goddammit

I needed some very simple, cartoony figures to represent different user groups on a diagram I was drawing in Omnigraffle, and couldn’t find anything free and suitable online. So I started using Omnigraffle to make my own.

A while later I was still tweaking Obsidian curves to create a little tie for one of … Read more

A game made just for you

Do video games learn what a gamer likes as they play, then tailor the rest of the game experience accordingly?

Say I’m playing a game where every so often, I can pick up guns from the floor. I always pick up uzis, because I have a particular penchant for cutting zombies in half with … Read more

Does the internet know you better than your mum?

Imagine if you had access to a record of everything you’ve done online in the last five years – down to keystroke level, even – and could analyse it to see what it reveals about you as a person.

Lots of us are wary of the prospect of companies like Google tracking our every … Read more

These graphs will get you laid

I just discovered the blog of OKCupid, a dating site (via @billwscott if you must know – research purposes only!)

It’s got tons of fascinating insights – drawn from OKCupid’s usage data – about people’s social behaviour, identity and dating preferences. Plus a few predictable findings, naturally.

It blows my mind to think of … Read more