I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago about Dark Patterns. These are deceptive user interfaces on a web site that trick you into clicking on a button or otherwise doing something that you:

  1. Don’t want to do
  2. Find difficult to do 
  3. Aren’t aware you are doing

Our brain uses mental short cuts , called heuristics. Like the illustration above, a dark pattern will try to trick your mental short cut, like green for go and red to stop or go back. Also note that you would expect the right button to go forward, not back.

As I dove into learning more about dark patterns, I found that some types of dark patterns closely resemble some of the tactics I was taught to use on my mission, and which I’m sure are still being used today.

No Choice

You get to the bottom of a web page, and it asks “Did this answer your question?” and you have only one button to push that says “Yes”. There is no way to say no! We were taught on my mission when setting up an appointment, to not ask if they want to learn more, but to say “would Tuesday morning or afternoon work best for you?”


You have two choices for subscribing to a newspaper on a web site, the first says “Yes, sign me up”, and the other says “No, I don’t want to be an informed person” While a missionary, I would ask people if they loved their family and wanted to to be together forever. If so they needed to join the Mormon church. I didn’t need to say the converse, it was implied if they didn’t want to be together forever, then don’t join our church!

Hidden Costs

This one is an old one (timeshares anybody?). One of the examples they give is that for an online learning tool, you can take a break from your membership if you are too busy to take a class during the month. Unfortunately, you can’t see the parameters of this membership-break without becoming a member first. Sound familiar? As a missionary, I never went over the costs of being a member, except for ten minutes explaining tithing. It was never emphasized that to be a member in good standing tithing was mandatory. Also, the hidden costs of time required to be a member is never discussed beforehand. There is not a complete “informed consent” before one is baptized.

Hard to Get Out [1]

Once you are in, and you decide you want out of your Hulu account, it is really hard to cancel. They hide the link to get out! Same with lots of other web pages where you want to cancel something. What does this sound like? I’m sure you’ve all read about how hard it is to cancel your membership in the church. It used to be that you had to be excommunicated to get out. Even today, when the people at Quit Mormon started submitted too many names, the church said they needed to get a notarized signature for each name. They made it harder.

So what Dark Patterns have you seen in or out of the church? Is it wrong for the Church to use these techniques that work so well in business, or is this just smart business and inspired adaptation from the business world?

[1] the name given on the web page for this dark pattern was “Roach Motel”, but that sounded too derogatory in relation to the church, so I changed it.