Learning patterns with  

If you never heard about the User Experience (UX) Dark Patterns, here is a brief description from darkpatterns.org:

“Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to.”

If you still not sure of what I am talking about there is the classic example of the pre-checked opt-in ,that you probably have stumbled on it before, when you fill a form on a website, create an account or purchase a product and there is a checkbox field to sign up to emails already checked.

However, this is just a small example. There are a lot, A LOT, of dark patterns out there, some made to trick you on wasting money and, as the darkparttern.org says, it is on us “to spread awareness and to shame companies that use them”. So here I am to talk about Spark New Zealand mobile app.

Let’s talk about Spark’s UI

Dark pattern 1 — Confusing Customer Journey

If you are a Spark customer, like myself, you probably have the Spark app on you phone; The problem starts when you want to renew your plan or buy more data.

You’re given two options at the home screen, one to “Top Up” and another one to “Buy Extras”. Let’s say you want to buy an extra i.e. a bundle or more data. So you click on extras, go to the options menu, choose the one you want and the app takes you to the “confirmation screen” to buy.

This should be the last stage of your customer journey, right? so you hit buy to finish but you are prompted with a top up screen.

*Important to say that you can’t top up less than $10, even if I want to buy the 5 dollars data boost.

At this stage I’m already lost but I choose to top up and finally I get an “All Done” screen. Also, the user receives an SMS from Spark about the successful transaction and suddenly my data working again 🎉

However, it wasn’t All done“; after 3 days of usage I was out of data. The truth is I didn’t buy the extra, I only topped up my account and I have been paying something like 0.80 cents MB (I don’t know the exact number but it is a lot).

What they expect from the user is to top up the account first and then to use that money to purchase an extra. If you start from the extra you will have this extra step sneaked in, and you won’t get any warning from them telling that you have been wasting money.

Dark Pattern 2 — Top up more than you need

First, have a look at these prices: $19, $29, $49

Now lets top up our account to buy one of these:

The main options are $10, $20, $30, $40, and $50 with a small custom option. Any thoughts? yes, you end up spending 1 dollar more, that will be spent after you’re out of data. You can argue that 1 dollar isn’t much for you and that’s probably why they do this, getting an extra dollar on every top up.

Dark Pattern 3 — Pre-checked auto pay

The last is the classic pre-checked box. When you’re buying your extra, you are presented with two pre enabled options: one to auto renew and another to auto pay for when you bundle expire.


I’ve decided to write about this after knowing that 3 other friends fell for the same “trick”. The goal here is not to complain about the brand (their competitors probably do something similar), my goal is to raise awareness.

As a user or designer you need to know that there are a lot of deceptive user interface designs made to trick, confuse and deceive you. They know that the users don’t read every text in the screen and they take advantage of this to make you take the wrong path.

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