The dark side of design: A guide for evil graphic designers

My own particular forum thread, ‘Is it possible to remain true to yourself as a designer?’ Yielded some thought provoking and stimulating debates. It was abundantly clear that people’s ethical and moralistic standpoints vary enormously and one’s moral compass is perhaps as unique as one’s fingerprints!

One thing this debate was able to clarify for me was that this topic was far too broad and I need to narrow down the focus from such a cavernous subject if I am to have any chance of success. Acknowledging this notion aided me in refining the topic further and the debate suggested several further potential areas of enquiry.

My major study focuses on lies and deceit and I intend this theoretical debate to underpin said practice based research. I have therefore decided to focus my attention to the darker side of design. How design can be used to persuade, manipulate and deceive. This paper will not, in-fact, become a guide for evil designers but is instead intended as an analysis of unethical methods and their application within the field of design.

I have previously investigated several social influence techniques and see this as an opportunity to continue this research. I intend to focus on subliminally persuasive techniques provided by neuroscience and psychology and how they are being implemented in the design field. Several potential areas for investigation are as follows:

  • Message framing
  • Visual Metaphor
  • Priming
  • Emotional Contagion
  • Nudging
  • Anchoring
  • Choice Blindness

One particular application of the above social influence techniques I’d like to explore further, is in use of dark patterns, according to darkpatterns. org, (2015). “A dark pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.”

I plan to conclude the debate by briefly looking at the flip side of the coin and how we, as designers can avoid being ‘evil’. Discussing the possibility of a universal design ethos or as David Berman (2009) in his book Do Good Design, suggests,

“Don’t just do good design, do good”

REFERENCES, (2015). Dark Patterns – User Interfaces Designed to Trick People. [online] Available at: http://darkpatterns. org/ [Accessed 28 Feb. 2016].

Do Good Design How Designers can change the world. (2009). 1st ed. [ebook] California: Nancy Aldrich- Ruenzel, p.147. Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2016].

The dark side of design: A guide for evil graphic designers

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