dark patterns and ux design

Ethical UX and Dark Patterns

ethical ux and dark patterns

Dark patterns are features of online interface design, crafted to intentionally force or manipulate users into doing things they would not otherwise do under normal circumstances. These tactics, drawn from extensive behavioral psychology research, benefit the website’s business and are unethical to use. Soon, they may also be illegal: legislation has recently been introduced to prohibit the use of dark patterns. It pays for marketers to know what they are and to avoid them.

Examples of dark patterns

You’ve probably experienced one of the most frequent types of dark pattern: the frustrating disguised ad that pretends to be a video or other content to get you to click on it. Other examples of dark pattern use include:

  • Sneak into basket – the site sneaks something into your cart through the use of an opt-out radio button or check box
  • Privacy Zuckering – named after the infamous Facebook CEO, this entails tricking people to publicly share more information than intended
  • Misdirection – Using design to focus your attention on one thing in order to distract your attention from another
  • Confirmshaming – Shaming the user into opting into something using clever wording in the option to decline
  • Obstruction – Making it easy to sign up for a recurring charge or subscription, but hard to cancel

Abuses of power

Twitter users are sharing dark patterns as they find them with the handle @darkpatterns. Take a look at the Hall of Shame to see what’s been reported. TurboTax may have the dubious honor of employing deception at every possible turn to scam users into paying to file their taxes when it should have been free.

Dark patterns are prevalent

A Princeton University study recently combed through 53,000 product pages from 11,000 shopping websites to characterize and quantify the prevalence of dark patterns – that is, designs that trick the user into doing things like clicking a link to subscribe to a service, or hiding the “Close Account” link with a myriad of other links to make it harder to leave the site. Here’s what they found:

  • 1,818 instances of dark patterns on shopping websites, which together represent 15 types of dark patterns
  • The patterns were present on 1,254 of the 11,000 shopping websites – approximately 11.1%
  • Shopping websites that were more popular, according to Alexa rankings, were more likely to feature dark patterns
  • A total of 234 instances of deceptive dark patterns were found across 183 websites
  • 22 third-party entities provided shopping websites with the ability to create dark patterns on their sites

Legislation to combat the problem

U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Deb Fischer have introduced legislation in Congress aimed at prohibiting the use of dark patterns. The Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act seeks to curb manipulative dark pattern behavior by prohibiting the largest online platforms (those with more than 100 million monthly active users) from relying on user interfaces that intentionally impair user autonomy, decision-making or choice.

UX and UI: The ethical dilemma of dark patterns

While the use of dark patterns may not be illegal at this time, there are certainly some concerns about the ethics of employing them in UX and UI design. Let’s look at the differences:

  • UX, or user experience design, identifies pain points and user needs in a web design, creates a prototype for solving those issues, validates the prototype through testing and then builds a product that brings resolution to those issues.
  • UI, or user interface design, looks at the visual design of the site (the look and feel, personality and brand) and considers how people will interact with that design.

UX designers could be considered the architects of macro-interactions, while UI designers are more the makers of micro-interactions. However, both play a role in dark pattern tactics. UX design should carve out a path for the user by putting their needs first. It’s the path the user expects, not a design strategy that takes advantage of the user by misleading them or by trapping them in a maze of confusion from which they can’t escape. Likewise, UI design should not be undertaken to use the site’s look and feel – its colors, fonts, and other design elements – to manipulate the user into making potentially harmful choices.

Our best defense against dark patterns use – as designers and users – is awareness of this unethical behavior. Companies risk their reputations and the goodwill of their customers by employing dark pattern tactics that sabotage the user. In addition to losing customers, they may incur negative press, or be shamed on social media, finding the consequences outweigh the benefits of such designs.

When planning, designing and prototyping your next project, ask Signal keeping the user’s best interests at heart.

Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Digital Agency

If you’re looking for a new digital agency, chances are that you’re either unhappy with your current agency, or looking to supplement an unmet need on your team, and you want to explore options. Either way, it’s an important decision. Understandably, you want to make the right choice. Otherwise, it’s like hiring someone who isn’t quite right for the job, with negative consequences that can last a long time.

As a digital agency ourselves, we know the importance of being a good fit for our clients, which helps us both enjoy a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. Every agency really does have a unique DNA. We recognize it’s difficult to choose based on a meeting or two, but hopefully the ideas outlined here will help you be better prepared for the task.

Below are some questions to ask yourself and potential agency partners, across the following critical areas: Staffing, Strategy, Content, Design and Technology.


Before meeting with potential agency partners, take a look at your team and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. What gaps do you see? Effective marketing campaigns require careful planning and execution, and your organization may not have all of the resources to do it in-house. What kind of talent do you need?

Once you begin a dialogue with a potential partner, make sure you ask about the agency’s staff members and their top competencies, so you can fill your gaps. Generally speaking, digital agencies with a well-rounded team are better equipped to handle your brand’s needs in today’s marketing world. Look for a team with a deep enough bench, but one that won’t get you lost in bureaucracy. And look for experienced professionals with diverse capabilities such as interactive design, application development, user experience (UX), marketing strategy, content development and video/motion graphics.


This will typically dovetail off of the staffing question, but before meeting with potential partners, it’s important to know if you’re interested in driving your own comprehensive strategy with a collaborative agency partner, or if you’re looking to turn over the reins to the agency. This may help you decide between a smaller, specialized agency or one that’s more full-service.

When you meet, ask what experience the agency has within your industry. Or, what steps will they take to become an expert on your business and industry. It’s nice to have an agency that understands your unique purpose and goals, especially if you’re looking for an agency to drive the strategy. Choosing an agency savvy about your industry can save valuable “onboarding” time.


Before hearing any pitches, take a look at your content and think about what needs improvement, updating or deleting – and consider any new content you need an agency to develop. It helps to look at your analytics to see what your audience is engaging with – and what they’re not. You can also ask your sales and customer service teams what topics they’re currently hearing for great insights.

When you meet, ask about the agency’s content development strategy. Remember, a good process starts with understanding your industry and audiences. Make sure to find out how closely your agency’s social media and content marketing teams work together when it comes to producing content. And, look for an agency who is experienced in delivering across email, search, social, PR and sales enablement. As a resource, think about our 5 Steps to Content Marketing.


Before meeting, review the agency’s portfolio online. An agency is putting the best of the best on their website, so this should give you a sense of the group’s design chops.

When you meet, it’s important to find out the process behind the design – how the agency ensures an optimal CX and UX. These are not just buzzwords. Positive UX is critical to your audience’s engagement with your website, tools and key touchpoints along their customer journey. It’s important to find an agency who can describe their process, and who knows that good UX isn’t just about design, but also all of the elements (content, information architecture, interactivity and functionality) which underpin design. Read our UX Demystified feature for more tips.


Before meeting, make a list of the software and platforms used by your organization. At a minimum, this includes your CRM, marketing automation platform and CMS. Are they seamlessly integrated, or are there gaps in your tech?

When you talk, find out how familiar the agency is with all aspects of your MarTech. Some agencies “go deep” and are very specialized in a particular platform, while others work across many and can bring a fresh perspective no matter the technology. Decide what’s better for you.

Final thought – How will you measure success?

Expect this question from your agency, and know how to answer it. Regardless of the measurement tool, the results should be reported in a format that you and your stakeholders understand, like leads and revenue. Get prepared by reading how to create a measurement plan. When you meet with potential partners, make sure you’re comfortable with how they intend to show results.

Knowledge is power when it comes to choosing a digital marketing agency. Ask good questions to help you make the most informed decision.

Use Animated Emails to MOVE People

animated emails

If pictures are worth a thousand words, how much more can your emails say with pictures that move? From animated GIFs and cinemagraphs, to embedded videos and CSS animations, today’s digital marketers have rich possibilities at their fingertips. When stacked against static emails, animated emails are better at catching attention and can more quickly explain how your product or service works. Just a few lines of code can make marketing magic happen.

CSS animation: the latest innovation

These animations are done in the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) via keyframes. CSS properties are changed at regular intervals to create animations or transitions within the email. With this type of animation, you can animate most HTML elements without using external scripts like Java or Flash.

  • THE PROS: CSS animation has some advantages over the easier-to-use GIF animation. For one, only the first image in a GIF will show in email clients like Outlook. GIFs are also larger files that slow down the load time for emails. Additionally, CSS animations are smoother and look better on high-quality mobile screens.
  • THE CONS: CSS animation isn’t well supported by many email clients. This chart offers a summary of how clients react to CSS animation. As with embedded videos, it’s important to code your email for a simpler rendering in older email clients – like a static image or a GIF.

Prezi’s understated background animation proves you don’t need to go big to make an impact.

A few more animations to consider

Animated GIFs

Check out these animated GIF-centric emails. GIFs like these are the simplest way to add animation to a plain email, providing the awesome opportunity to show multiple images of a product or make it move.

This simple, friendly GIF is eye-catching and completely on-brand.


UBER’s subtle animation pulls the audience into the experience of using the app.


MOO’s clean, modern layout and fresh copy combine to make a winning gif.


With the cinemagraph, only a single element of the image or background is animated while everything else stays static – a moving picture with a cinematic effect. This exciting imagery is sure to grab attention and add a touch of elegance.

Train to Machu Picchu: This cinemagraph captures the romance and excitement of luxury train travel.

Amazon: The fan is eye-catching, but the slight movement of the woman’s dress is the “gotcha” in this chic cinemagraph.

Chanel: With sparklers and gentle eye movement, this cinemagraph embodies the elegance of Chanel’s brand.

Armani: Armani’s cinemagraph manages to create story and emotion with the softest of movement.

Embedded videos are simply that – videos that play within your email copy. Like CSS animations, embedded videos may not be supported for all email clients, so it’s important to code for a fall back. Take a look here for an embedded video coding example.

Don’t forget!

  • Always include a fallback color and a description tag.
  • Some email providers show just the very first frame, not the full animation. Make sure the first frame of your GIF shows the most critical message.
  • Any animated files should be as lightweight as possible – heavy GIFs and videos can send emails directly to the spam folder.
  • Always run a few test sends (on desktop, mobile and multiple browsers) to see how your email functions, and where it is sent to (inbox or spam).

With any of these animation alternatives, there’s a learning curve for coding, but the end result is worth it. In a world where the visual is king, the more innovative and interesting your email images, the higher your audience engagement!

The Signal team is here to help you with all things email, from copy and design to detailed coding.


Learn the 4 C’s to improve the customer journey

Digital marketers sometimes think that a “conversion” simply entails completing and submitting a form online, but it’s actually much more. The 4 C’s of the customer journey can help you deliver a positive customer experience, complete the sales cycle – and increase the chances of true advocacy from your leads, prospects and even existing customers.


contentYou know the old chestnut about content being king? Yes, relevant content can make a huge difference in attracting and converting those potential customers. But beware of producing content for content’s sake, which simply adds more noise to an already crowded web. If you don’t have a solid business need for content, save your resources for planning – and looking at the context.


contextEvery piece of content you produce must have a reason for being, and must set the stage for further audience interaction with you. Content with context offers prospects the reason to believe that your product or service is what they need. Make them believe and they’ll want to start the dialogue with you, which leads us to conversation.


conversationMarketers overlook this component when developing visually attractive, well-written collateral that lacks a persuasive CTA. What do you want people to do with your content? Does it offer an avenue to interact with someone from your company? Without opening these compelling pathways to engagement, you’re just asking prospects to buy. This may be successful in the short term, but it doesn’t provide additional value. Conversation is stepping stone to conversion!


conversionsWhen a lead converts online, it’s not time to wash your hands of them quite yet. Help quantify and qualify the leads by showing that you offered that lead a positive experience – building brand value that makes them more likely to become a loyal customer.

What can Signal do for your marketing team? Reach out and start a conversation with us.  

Refine Your Strategy with Video KPIs

How do you know if your video campaigns are effective? Video Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are metrics to help you refine your strategy and content – if you have a solid measurement plan in place. You can use video metrics to test how well your video performs, giving you insight into the best video content and placement. In the last post of Signal’s 3-part series on video marketing, you’ll learn how to measure your efforts and get the most ROI.

Catch up on Part 1 of our series, Video (High) Resolutions for 2019 – or Part 2, Why Your Company Needs a Corporate Video.

Consider these 5 video KPIs to track effectiveness

  1. Views – the most basic metric meant to track the reach of videos, especially on social media. This is a good gauge of increased exposure and brand awareness. Keep in mind, though, that it offers no more than the number of times people clicked “play.”
  2. Social sharing – a solid metric to track brand awareness on social platforms. More shares means more exposure. This metric has an added bonus. When someone shares content, it adds credibility and helps foster community around it: both good things to understand. People who share more have probably gone through the conversion process!
  3. Comments and feedback – a useful way to give you qualitative data to balance out the quantitative. Comments will give you an idea about how your target audience is responding to video content but remember – you’re getting just a snapshot of opinion.
  4. Engagement and view through rate – Engagement provides insight into how much of your video someone watched, while view through rate tells you how many people watched your entire video. Together, they help you understand when people stop viewing your content so you can optimize your message.
  5. Bounce rate – a metric that tells you what percentage of visitors leave your site after visiting just one page. The bounce rate on a landing page can tell you how well an explainer video is performing, for example. If the “bounce” is high, it means people are not sticking around to click links and complete the conversion process.

Best practices for optimal ROI

Remember that shareable content is clear, engaging and short – this goes for videos, too. Place your videoabove the fold” (the sweet spot that appears without scrolling) – and keep it to around 600 x 400 pixels in size. Finally, when posting video to Facebook, keep in mind that native videos have a 10x higher reach than a link to YouTube!

Still not convinced? Consider the superiority of video

Ready for more video mojo? Contact Signal to get your questions about video production and optimization answered.

marketers reconsider A/B testing

Time to Reconsider A/B Testing

A/B testing isn’t making marketers very happy. Once a promising solution to website optimization, A/B testing is now seen as faulty, time-consuming and difficult. While setting up A/B testing is easy with the right tools, getting the answers you need takes time, practice and expertise. In fact, most A/B tests are never published because they don’t increase conversions! Marketers are seeing much more benefit from focusing optimization efforts on more modern, user-centric testing methods. Here’s why you should reconsider A/B testing.

the latest on A/B testing

It takes time to get right

Each A/B test requires a hypothesis around how your variations will measure up to the control – and repeated rounds of testing to gain usable insights. It’s a time-consuming process best suited to helping you learn about your target audience with incremental steps. But remember, true lifts in conversions come from understanding the user and serving relevant and valuable offers (something that may be more easily done with data and personas).

It’s error-prone

Did you know that only 1 out of 8 A/B tests have driven significant change? A/B testing is so wonky because you’d need to run tests until you reach statistical confidence – the probability that a test result is accurate. (Most researchers look for a 95% confidence level in order to reach a conclusion.) Otherwise, results may be influenced by random factors and produce false data. Calculating statistical confidence can be too complex for those of us who are not statisticians.

It’s not for every business

Another reason A/B testing fails may be sample size. There are tools available for determining the correct number, but some estimates suggest that 25,000 visitors may be needed to reach statistical confidence, and smaller businesses are unlikely to have that kind of traffic. This is one of the reasons that Optimizely, one of the most popular A/B testing tools, is discontinuing its free platform in favor of one more focused on large enterprises.

Contact our team today to learn more about understanding your key audiences – and making sure your websites are living up to their promise.  

Video (High) Resolutions for 2019

The best brand stories depend on a genuine human connection and exceptional experience – and there’s no better way to create that bond than video. Live and motion content will continue to dominate marketing in 2019, giving you a sweet opportunity to build real relationships with your audience. In this, Part 1 of a new 3-part series on video marketing, the Signal team gives you three new year’s video resolutions to add to your marketing strategy for the coming year!

1. Cultivate micro-moments

Everyone’s short on time – and attention – these days. When someone’s digitally searching for recommendations, you have a chance to connect through storytelling in micro-moments. Short, useful videos allow great micro-moments to take place, where consumers experience your brand in a human way. Think warm and engaging Facebook or Instagram Stories, like T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s Slow Cooker Sunday series.

2. Explore live video

Companies are increasingly taking advantage of live streaming platforms to give people a look inside the brand – or inside the mind of thought leaders. Live video is authentic, offering an opportunity for behind-the-scenes tours of your office, chats with employees, or real-time Q&A sessions. Prospective customers love to look under the hood and a live stream delivers tons of transparency.

3. Impress them with cinemagraphs

While you may not have heard of the cinemagraph, you’ve probably seen one. These gifs are subtle and eye-catching animations, with only a single animated element of the image or background – a moving picture with a cinematic effect. These understated videos instantly command your audience’s attention and inject your content with flair.

Tips for success

  • Include micro-moments or live streaming in your content strategy. What would your audience consider helpful, interesting or fun? Break out the whiteboard and brainstorm.
  • Maximize your spend by recycling sound bites, gifs or cinemagraphs of your videos across all your channels.

Keep your video resolutions for 2019 on track! Check out Part 2 of our series, Why Your Company Needs a Corporate Video or Part 3, Refine Your Strategy With Video KPIs.

Facebook Ads: What’s Changing

In the wake of the recent Facebook data privacy scandal, the company is changing the way its popular Custom Audiences feature works. If you’re a marketer who uses Custom Audiences to target specific populations, read on to find out what’s changing and how it may impact how your business advertises on Facebook in the coming months.

You will no longer be able to leverage the third-party data sources found in Facebook’s Partner Categories.

This data is sourced from big-name partners like Oracle and Experian. It allowed advertisers to reach prospects based on super-specific and personal information, like what kind of car they own or what tax bracket they fall into or where they work.

You will need permission to advertise to people – and are responsible for getting this consent.

Advertisers can’t just upload any old list to Facebook and target those people with ads anymore. You’ll now need permission to advertise to specific people before uploading a list, similar to permission-based email marketing.

You can see who claims to have permission to advertise to you.

As a Facebook User, you can take a look at the businesses with the ability to advertise to you because you “shared your email address with them or another business they’ve partnered with.” Go to Facebook’s Ad Preferences and scroll down to “Advertisers you’ve interacted with.” There, in the first tab, you’ll see those “who have added their contact lists to Facebook.”

The upside

  • Facebook’s changes are all in the name of adding safeguards and holding users accountable for how they target prospects – a positive development.
  • Core targeting features are all still available (that is, anything that’s inferred through information shared directly with Facebook and in-app activity).
  • You can still remarket to people who have been to your website, assuming your privacy policy addresses this.
  • And you can still create Lookalike Audiences based on your most valuable audiences.

Is it time to refine your Facebook ad targeting methods? The Signal team will make sure you’re on top of the latest developments.  

repurposing content

Second Helpings: How to Repurpose Content

how to repurpose content

Reduce, reuse…repurpose your content! Marketing content costs time, effort and money to create, so make sure to wring as much value as you can out of it. Take that presentation or white paper off the shelf and retool it to keep audiences engaged – and organic website traffic moving smoothly. Below, we lift the hood a little on repurposing.

Won’t people know we’re reusing content?

It’s unlikely that even your biggest fans have tracked everything you publish. Remember the old “Rule of Seven” advertising adage? People need to hear your message multiple times before they take action.

When is the best time to repurpose content?

  • Audiences have changed
  • You need to reinforce critical messages
  • Organic visibility is stagnant
  • Anytime you want to make things easier on your marketing team – and their budget!

What’s the biggest benefit of content reuse?

Other than saving time, effort and money? Some people like to read 1000-word blog posts. Others like 2-minute videos. Repurposing content helps you appeal to different content preferences, expanding your audience.

How can I find my best-performing content?

Dive into your analytics to find the hot content to repurpose. Consider factors like views, social engagement and shares.

Hey, how about some great ideas?

  • Repurpose compelling stats or quotes from blog posts, white papers or surveys into snackable infographics for social sharing
  • Turn tradeshow and conference presentations into SlideShare presentations to increase reach
  • Turn a blog post into something visual, like an infographic or a whiteboard explainer video
  • Gather some experts and have them discuss the topic of a recent presentation or blog post in a podcast
  • Repackage related evergreen blog posts into something meatier, like an e-book with new visual elements
  • Record an audio version of an e-book for easy “drive time” listening
  • Publish webinars as tutorials on YouTube
  • Create a quiz or a game from existing content

Need some help repurposing your content? Let Signal help you slice and dice and re-imagine to keep your audience engaged.

get the skinny on dense content

The skinny on dense content


In a world where attention spans have fallen to mere seconds, every word counts – and high-quality writing makes the difference. Enter “dense” content, which offers readers “a lot of good, perceived value in a little bit of time.” Professionally written, dense content helps you tell the best story. It also serves up SEO, usability and lead generation benefits. Here’s what you need to know.

The basics

Forbes magazine notes that “a new trend may ignore length entirely, focusing on providing as much information as possible in the smallest possible space – dense content – to appeal to readers.” (Some may say that the emoji is the perfect dense content. But don’t scrap the English language just yet!)

Dense content combines the best of both snackable and long-form content. Think of it as “snackable done right.”

  • Snackable works well because people generally don’t have time for long reads
  • Long-form offers a valuable in-depth, authoritative exploration of a topic

The benefits

Snackable but low-quality fluff doesn’t provide value. People don’t read it – and they certainly don’t share or link to it. High-quality dense content, on the other hand, gets much higher engagement from your audience. When you pepper it with the right keywords, it also helps your websites rank higher. Bonus: Easy-to-read dense content also increases your site’s usability / accessibility.

Long-form content has strong educational and thought leadership value. Consider using dense content as a feeder, driving potential leads to fill out a form for a longer content offer, such as an e-book or white paper. When your feeder is high-quality, you earn respect with readers and pique their interest in more content.

How to write dense content

  • Edit well. Good revisions can help you trim the fat.
  • Make it chunky. Use bullet points, short paragraphs and graphics.
  • Mind your quality. Writing is an art, so use your best writers – or hire professionals.
  • Think mobile. Many of your readers will be accessing your content on a small screen.
  • Be verbose. Rambling on and on loses your audience.
  • Complex words. Keep it smart and simple, not stuffy or full of buzzwords. Test yourself with the Hemingway App.
  • Big chunks of text. There’s an acronym for this – TLDR, which means “too long, didn’t read.”
  • Confuse readers. Define and use key messages / message platforms to keep communicators on the same page.

Quality is more important than quantity – especially when it comes to content marketing. Let the Signal team’s professional writers deliver the dense content you need.