The user who cried wolf

Posted 4 years ago

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is one of those kid’s stories that struck a nerve with me growing up. The moral “liars aren’t believed even when they speak the truth” seems to bleed into my working life, especially when I’m faced with difficult decisions. Users put a great amount of faith into digital products guiding them and helping them complete a task and it’s our duty not to take advantage of them.

A huge challenge most interaction designers face is straddling the line between supporting users and ensuring a transaction is made because at the end of the day, we want our employers to make money. We can design things that we think are awesome and users think are awesome but if our stakeholders don’t see our work contributing to the bottom line, there’s a problem. Most designers are accustomed to going head to head with marketers and managers, trying to prove the value of a design concept.

And sometimes designers are briefed with an idea by a stakeholder that is slightly deceptive or even completely anti-user. These are the moments I refer back to the moral of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

 

Deceptive UX is everywhere

A great resource that shines the spotlight on deceptive UX is Dark Patterns. The pattern library reads like a series of criminal reports, uncovering what to look out for and how you could be deceived. A consistent thread through each of the reports is misleading or intentionally confusing experiences. A great example of this is a former Skype installer screen that blatantly misleads users into setting Bing as their homepage.

 

‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ push notification

A while ago, I was asked to design a mobile push notification to promote a sale. The idea of using push notifications for selling didn’t sit well with me as I believe the native, mobile feature should only be used for critical system warnings or messages.

I thought of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. If we use a push notification to sell something a customer may not be interested in, will our customers ignore future notifications when we have something urgent to say? Could the intrusive message be the reason a user deletes our mobile app? Users are constantly being interrupted by their smartphones and contributing to this “noise” was unsettling to me.

After discussing the concept and the implications of using a push notification, we eventually compromised and changed the brief to an e-mail campaign. I was relieved. We might have lost some potential sales but we didn’t give our customers a reason to mistrust us or ‘cry wolf’.