Towards a More of Friendly Approach

Thanks to the wonderful recommendations I’ve received over the past week, I was able to do a bit of reading into the whole notion of “dark design patterns” and believe I was able to narrow my interests. I was interested in looking at the profitability of dark UX, but rather than doing a cost-benefit analysis (sounds too business-ey for SSHRC), I thought it might be interesting to relate it back to existing literature regarding the impact of usability on business ventures.

Max Speicher (of Twenty Oh Eight) defined the relationship between usability and profitability in a neat conceptual diagram. This Conversion/Usability Diagram builds off of a traditional profit model and includes usability as a primary variable that influences profitability through amount, variable, and fixed factors.

The Profit Function w/ Usability
Usability indirectly influences profit by increasing the amount of sales, decreasing variable costs, while increasing fixed costs.

In this sense, he argues that usability increases the amount of sales a company is likely to make, due to customer satisfaction and organic marketing (or referrals and brand loyalty). Moreover, usability decreases variable expenses by lowering the risk of customer errors and broken products (issues which would require variable amounts of money to recover from). Finally, usability influences profit by increasing fixed costs. These fixed costs usually come from extensive user-testing. Unlike variable costs however, fixed costs can be reduced at the discretion of managers who may introduce leaner methodologies depending on their allocated budget.

In most cases then, usability has a positive effect on profitability. According to research by Jakob Nielson, e-commerce sites can double their sales, subscription-based services can double their conversion rates, and simply improving the usability of a company’s internal infrastructure has the potential to save millions of dollars through increased employee productivity. A hypothetical cost-benefit analysis of usability in non-profit and government agencies further showed the potential to increase their ROI by 22,000% (Nielson, 2007).

Thus, from a pedagogical and ethical perspective, UX professionals must adhere to usability principals for the benefit of the user and the company. So where does dark UX fit into all of this?

Until the next post, I would like to leave you with my research question:

Does the perception of usability influence profitability between dark and user-friendly design patterns?

By addressing this question, I hope to clarify whether usability is the sole benefactor of profitability and whether dark design patterns and usability are mutually exclusive. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

– Adrian Wong

2 thoughts on “Towards a More of Friendly Approach

Add yours

  1. Hi Adrian,

    Thanks for providing the link to the original Twenty Oh Eight article, it helped to understand the diagram you included even better!

    Your research question is summed up as follows: “[d]oes the perception of usability influence profitability between dark and user-friendly design patterns?” It seems to me that your research question is very refined — which is great. I wonder, however, that it is phrased in such a way that it seems to lead to a “yes” versus “no” response and that this (yes versus no response) may be limiting for your study. In its stead, perhaps it might be useful to situate your research question within what Knight refers to as the “AEIOU” for pragmatic research. Each vowel (A versus E versus I etc.) represents one method of conducting social research. If it helps, I will spell out what each vowel denotes:

    Action: how can inquiry improve social practices?
    Evaluation: how good is social practice or theory?
    Is: description of the way things are, appear to be or are said to be.
    Ought: the world of the critical, asking why things are as they are and who benefits, as well as exploring ways of improving things as they stand.
    Understanding: which includes interpretations and explanations of why things are as they are, why people think and act as they do, and so on (Knight 2002, p.47).

    While Knight does not explicitly state this, I will add that this AEIOU list is certainly in no way exhaustive. If we loosely applied these terms to your research study, however, AEIOU becomes this broad way of asking the same questions relative to your variables (i.e., the variables of perception and profitability). For instance, relative to the E vowel, in evaluating the impact of perception on profitability, it may help to phrase research relative to questions like “…how?” or “…to what extent?” or “…what is the relationship between…?”

    In addition, it will seem like you have two questions summed up in your proposed question: “does the perception of usability influence profitability between dark and user-friendly design patterns?” On one hand, it seems to be investigating the differences in profitability for dark versus user-friendly patterns and on the other hand, it seems to be investigating the effect of the perception of usability on the profitability of patterns. Perhaps it may be helpful to determine where in the AEIOU framework your research may be situated in and asking “how…?” or “what differences” (etc.) rather than “does…?” in unpacking your research questions even further.

    I look forward to your next post!

    Adanna Chigbo


  2. Excellent suggestions! I had trouble articulating my main research question, which was whether the idea of “usability” helped mediate any differences in terms of profitability between dark and user-friendly interfaces. I couldn’t find any previous literature examining the differences of profitability between the two interfaces, so I had to include the “does” part in my research question, as opposed to leaving it as an assumption. Also by asking “how”, I would be able to gather a more comprehensive understanding of such a relationship. I think I need to move from a quantitative mindset to a more qualitative or mixed-methods approach in order to examine this question in greater depth.


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