5 min read

Five Tips to Avoid Dark Patterns in Your Consent Interfaces

Published on
May 29, 2024

As a digital marketer, legal director, or head of UX, you understand the importance of obtaining user consent for data collection and processing. However, the way you design your consent interfaces can greatly impact user trust and compliance with privacy regulations. Dark patterns, which are deceptive design practices that manipulate users into making unintended choices, can undermine the validity of consent, damage your brand reputation, and lead to severe fines.

At FairPatterns, we advocate for ethical design principles and fairness by design to prioritize user trust and transparency.

To help you navigate this complex landscape, we've compiled five tips to avoid dark patterns in your consent interfaces.

What Are Dark Patterns?

Dark patterns are deceptive UX design practices that trick users into taking actions they might not otherwise take. These can range from hidden fees to unwanted subscriptions and, most commonly, misleading consent interfaces. Dark patterns can severely damage a company’s reputation, erode user trust, and damage the digital economy as a whole.

Understanding how to avoid dark patterns is crucial for any business that values long-term customer relationships and sustainable growth.

1. Embrace Transparency and Clarity

One of the most common areas where dark patterns appear is in cookie consent interfaces. Websites often use cookies to track user behavior and gather data, but users must be clearly informed and consent to this tracking. The catch here is that users often do consent, but without truly informed, and companies too often wrongly assume that this is better for their bottom line.

One of the key principles of fair patterns is transparency. Your consent interfaces should clearly explain what data is being collected, how it will be used, and who will have access to it. Avoid using vague or misleading language that may confuse users or hide important information.

Tip: Use plain language and provide a clear, concise, objective description of your data practices. Consider using visual aids like icons or infographics to make the information more accessible.
  • Plain Language: Use simple, straightforward language to explain what cookies or personal data are, why they are being used, and what the user’s choices are. Avoid jargon and ensure that the language is accessible to all users.
  • Equal Visibility: Ensure that options to accept or decline cookies are equally prominent. Users should not have to hunt for the decline button or navigate through multiple screens to find it.
  • Detailed Options: Provide users with detailed options to customize their personal data preferences. Allow them to opt-in or opt-out of different types of cookies (e.g., necessary, functional, analytical, and marketing) with clear explanations of what each type does.
  • No Pre-Checked Boxes: Avoid using pre-checked boxes for consent options. Users should actively choose their preferences to ensure that consent is explicit and informed.

2. Simplify the Opt-Out Process

Making it difficult for users to opt-out of services or subscriptions is a common dark pattern known as the "roach motel." This tactic traps users in a service by making it easy to sign up but challenging to leave.

How to Avoid Dark Patterns in Opt-Out Processes:

  • Easy Access: Provide an easily accessible and visible option for users to opt-out of services. This can be through a clear “unsubscribe” button in emails or a straightforward account settings page.
  • Minimal Steps: Reduce the number of steps required to opt-out. A single click should ideally suffice, or at most, a brief confirmation process. Basically, there should be the same number of steps to subscribe and to unsubscribe
  • No Guilt-Tripping: Avoid using language that guilt-trips users into staying, such as "Are you sure you want to leave?" or "You’ll miss out on great benefits!" Respect the user’s decision and keep the process neutral and supportive.
  • Confirmation and Feedback: Once a user opts out, provide immediate confirmation and feedback. Let them know their request was successful and any next steps they should expect.

3. Ensure Consent is Informed and Voluntary

True consent is informed, voluntary, and unambiguous. Users should never feel coerced into agreeing to something because they don’t fully understand the implications or because they feel they have no other choice.

How to Avoid Dark Patterns in Gaining Consent:

  • Comprehensive Information: Clearly explain what users are consenting to, including any potential risks or benefits. Use concise yet comprehensive descriptions.
  • User Control: Give users control over their data and preferences. Allow them to change their consent settings easily at any time.
  • Separate Consent for Different Purposes: Do not bundle multiple consents into one agreement. Separate consents for different purposes, such as marketing emails, data sharing, and personalized content, so users can choose specifically what they agree to.
  • Regular Reminders: Periodically remind users of their consent settings and give them the opportunity to review and update their choices. This practice reinforces transparency and trust.

4. Avoid Manipulative Design Techniques

Manipulative design techniques, such as confirmshaming (language that guilts the user out of declining) and sneak into basket (tricking users into purchasing more than they intend to), are designed to pressure users into making decisions they might not otherwise make.

How to Avoid Dark Patterns in Design:

  • Neutral Language: Use neutral and non-manipulative language throughout your interfaces. Avoid emotionally charged words or phrases that could coerce users into taking a specific action.
  • No Sneaky Additions: Don’t automatically add extra items or services to a user’s cart or subscription. Ensure that any additional options are opt-in rather than opt-out.
  • Clear Visual Hierarchy: Maintain a clear and balanced visual hierarchy in your design. Avoid using bright colors or large fonts to draw attention to one option over another unfairly.
  • Honest Default Settings: Set honest and user-friendly default settings. Do not assume consent by default or pre-select options that benefit the company more than the user.

5. Foster a Culture of Ethical Design

Creating fair and transparent interfaces goes beyond individual design choices; it requires fostering a culture of ethical design within your organization.

How to Promote Ethical Design:

  • Education and Training: Provide regular training for your design and development teams on ethical design practices and the importance of avoiding dark patterns.
  • User-Centric Approach: Emphasize a user-centric approach in all design processes. Prioritize the needs, rights, and preferences of users above all else.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Implement robust feedback mechanisms to gather user input on your interfaces. Use this feedback to make continuous improvements and address any potential dark patterns.
  • Ethical Guidelines: Develop and enforce a set of ethical guidelines for UX design that all team members must follow. These guidelines should outline what constitutes a dark pattern and provide alternatives for achieving business goals ethically.

Wondering what fair patterns look like in practice? Well, after 2 years of R&D, we’ve created a library of 23 fair patterns. Have a look at the dark versus fair patterns right here and let us know what you think!


Avoiding dark patterns in your consent interfaces is crucial for maintaining user trust, avoiding hefty fines and ensuring customer lifetime value. By prioritizing transparency, simplifying opt-out processes, ensuring informed and voluntary consent, avoiding manipulative design techniques, and fostering a culture of ethical design, you can create fair and user-friendly interfaces that respect and empower your users. In the end, transparency will strengthen your company’s customer relationships and bottom line.

At FairPatterns, we are committed to helping organizations adopt fair and transparent design practices. By following these five tips, you can contribute to a more ethical digital landscape and build stronger, more trustful relationships with your users. Together, we can make the internet a fairer place for everyone.

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