Dark Patterns

The term dark pattern was coined (I believe) by Harry Brignull to describe practices in user interface design intended to make it easy for your users to accidentally select a more profitable (for you) option and hard for them to revert, cancel or unsubscribe.

This is not news. We all know how, for instance, low-cost airlines try to trick you into ordering travel insurance, or software installers try to trick you into installing browser toolbars. But it’s something we usually associate with slightly dodgy outfits like RyanAir or Oracle.

I recently learned that Adobe really, really wants you to buy Acrobat XI Pro. It costs twice as much as Adobe XI Standard and is loaded with features that few people need. Arguably, few people need Acrobat XI Standard either—but I have a lot of papers to scan and if there’s one thing Acrobat does better than any other software I’ve encountered, it’s scan and post-process documents.

Go to Adobe’s front page and select Acrobat from the Products drop-down. You get your average product page with product information, testimonials, awards, stock photos of happy people (presumably, Acrobat is what makes them happy), and a sidebar that offers you the Pro and Standard versions. The sidebar doesn’t list the full price, however, because Acrobat is pretty expensive. Instead, they show you the price of an upgrade from a previous version. They also offer you a free evaluation license, but there’s no evaluation license for Acrobat XI Standard. So you download and install an evaluation copy of Acrobat XI Pro and use it for a while and start to really like it. It keeps popping up a dialog nagging you to buy a full license, and finally you decide to do so and click the “Buy” button. It brings up the Adobe Store in a browser window with Acrobat XI Pro already in your shopping cart, and you think “No! I wanted the standard version!” and try to change your order, but you can’t actually convert the item in your cart from Pro to Standard, so you end up having to empty your card and navigate through the store until you find the correct version. You pay and download and run the installer, but it refuses to run because you already have a better version installed (i.e. your unlicensed evaluation copy of Acrobat XI Pro) which you have to manually uninstall before installing your licensed copy of Acrobat XI Standard.

But at least you can scan.

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