The Hidden Dark Patterns in Mobile Applications and User Perception: A Comparative Study


Hatched by naoya

Jul 11, 2024

4 min read


The Hidden Dark Patterns in Mobile Applications and User Perception: A Comparative Study


In the world of UI/UX design, organizing elements and objects is crucial for creating a seamless user experience. Figma, a popular design tool, offers features like "Frame Selection" and "Group Selection" that allow designers to group and nest objects within frames. On the other hand, a study on mobile applications sheds light on the prevalence of deceptive user interfaces known as Dark Patterns. This study explores the extent to which Dark Patterns are present in popular mobile apps and whether users are aware of their existence. By comparing these two perspectives, we can gain valuable insights into the design practices that manipulate user behavior.

Frame Selection and Group Selection in Figma:

Figma, a renowned UI/UX design tool, provides designers with the ability to group objects into a single "frame." Additionally, designers can create nested groups within frames, known as "Frame Selection." This feature allows for better organization and management of shapes, texts, and other objects. By grouping elements together, designers can easily manipulate and edit them as a whole, resulting in a more efficient design process. Figma's Frame Selection and Group Selection features significantly enhance the collaboration and productivity of UI/UX designers.

Dark Patterns in Mobile Applications:

Dark Patterns refer to deceptive user interface design patterns that aim to manipulate users into taking actions they may not want to. A study conducted on popular mobile applications reveals that these apps, on average, contain at least seven different types of Dark Patterns. The research focuses on two aspects: (1) the prominence of Dark Patterns in popular mobile apps and (2) users' recognition and perception of these patterns. To investigate these aspects, researchers employed an active process involving two researchers using each app to perform a series of common tasks. Additionally, an online experiment was conducted using the five Dark Patterns identified during the classification phase. The study aimed to determine whether users could perceive these patterns, a phenomenon known as "DP-blindness."

Insights from Neuro Marketing and Classification Systems:

Neuromarketing, a relatively new field, utilizes techniques such as fMRI, EEG, and eye-tracking to investigate the effects of marketing stimuli. In the context of Dark Patterns, Conti and Sobiesk proposed a classification system comprising 11 classes and 20 subclasses. Gray and others redefined Brignull's classification system based on a series of artifacts collected from blogs, websites, and social media. Moreover, studies by Moser and Mathur involved the collection of screenshots to recognize malicious designs on e-commerce websites. These insights from neuro marketing and classification systems contribute to a better understanding of Dark Patterns and their impact on user perception.

Challenges and Limitations in Dark Pattern Analysis:

Analyzing Dark Patterns solely through static images may not provide an accurate representation of the user experience. Therefore, the use of videos depicting the actual usage of each app is essential for a comprehensive analysis. During the study, each app was used for a total of 2,400 minutes (40 hours), and researchers performed common tasks such as account creation, visiting market pages, and browsing settings. The consistency of classification was ensured by involving two researchers who double-checked the categorization sheets. However, it is worth noting that perceiving Dark Patterns in videos may be more challenging for respondents compared to experiencing them in real-life scenarios. Additionally, the limited sample size of representative users from the entire population of mobile app users poses a limitation to the generalizability of the findings.


The comparative study of Figma's Frame Selection and Group Selection features and the prevalence of Dark Patterns in mobile applications provides valuable insights into the world of UI/UX design. Designers can benefit from tools like Figma to enhance their workflow and collaboration, ensuring a seamless user experience. Simultaneously, understanding the existence of Dark Patterns and their impact on user perception is crucial for ethical design practices. Based on these insights, here are three actionable pieces of advice for UI/UX designers:

  • 1. Prioritize user-centric design: Always prioritize the needs and expectations of users over any manipulative design practices.
  • 2. Stay informed about Dark Patterns: Familiarize yourself with existing classification systems and research on Dark Patterns to ensure your designs do not exploit or deceive users.
  • 3. Conduct usability testing: Regularly test your designs with real users to gather feedback and identify any potential Dark Patterns that may have gone unnoticed.

By incorporating these practices, designers can create ethical and user-friendly experiences, fostering trust and long-term relationships with their audience.

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