Legal design » Deceptive patterns

Sebastian Greger This is a living document
Last update:

Often referred to as “dark patterns”, deceptive patterns are manipulative design solutions that aim to motivate users to actions that are against their intention and often their personal benefit. Commonly dismissed as unethical among designers, they have a legal relevance as well.

About the name

There is a good reason to not call them “dark” to promote breaking the connotation of dark/black with negative:

The phrase “dark pattern” is …problematic. We really don’t need to be associating darkness with negativity any more than we already do in our language and culture.

…but even from a most practical perspective this not-self-explanatory term is not very comprehensible for those outside a certain bubble:

“Dark patterns“ is a kind of lofty term that isn’t all that clear for those outside the tech bubble. We should call them “manipulative patterns“ to better describe the purposeful *intent* behind them in a way anyone can understand.

— Quinn Keast (@quinnkeast) January 29, 2021

I have chosen to use the term “deceptive patterns” wherever possible and only use “dark patterns” when quoting the work of others.

Good explainers to start from

Scholars at Stanford and UCLA assembled this zine (on or as a 45MB PDF) on deceptive patterns, primarily to make them more tangible to non-techy people. […]

More in-depth analysis


The dark side of UX Design
With its byline “Practitioner-identified examples of stakeholder values superseding user values”, this practice-based […]

Legal definitions

The Dutch DPA has a very workable definition of “deceptive”.

Academic research

From unethical to illegal

With an increasing volume of GDPR-related court rulings, there is also a growing body of case law stating how deceptive patterns violate the law:

At the same time, there is a lack of specific statements in the applicable laws. While deceptive patterns obviously violate the spirit and the foundations of laws, they are rarely explicitly mentioned as something outlawed:

More from my bookmarks

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer aiming to bring toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. This is my "digital garden" with carefully curated resources. For a more stream-like outlet, see my journal.

My monthly email newsletter has all of the above, and there are of course also an RSS feed and Twitter.