Evasive Designs

Mohit Soni
5 min readJan 20, 2021

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Product managers chase multiple user and business metrics such as an increase in the number of users, increase in the number of users subscribing to promotional offers, decrease in churn rate, high conversion rate, increase in ARPU etc. Every product or platform aims for high user retention rates, low churn rates, and a high lifetime value (LTV) of its users.

Sometimes PMs make design choices that serve only the interest of the business. These designs, though perform better on the metrics, are misleading for the users. I am sharing a few of my observations of such design techniques.

1. Cookies usage consent

After the introduction of GDPR laws in Europe, most websites take cookie usage consent from the users. You must have encountered a cookie consent message such as the one shown below while browsing the web. Notice that option to dissent to the use of non-essential cookies is hidden behind the “Cookies Management Tool” link.

A sample cookie consent message presented to the user

In the image above

  • Only the “Accept” button is visible.
  • The font size of the text is small.
  • The links are not visible.
  • The options to configure the policy are hidden behind the “Cookies Management Tool” link.
  • Even if you click on “Cookies Management Tool” link, the configuration options are not user friendly (Image below).
  • It is not clear whether enabling the button will block cookies or enable cookies. User has to make similar choices for all the different third-party vendors. Why not show a simple and promptly visible option to opt-out of all the cookies?
Cookie management presented to the users

2. Opting out of service or a feature

The off-boarding experience for most of the platforms is not optimal. It is designed to create barriers for users from opting-out

2.1 Credit Card

You would have received numerous calls to convince you to get a credit card. However, have you faced difficulties while closing a credit card account? Most card providers don’t even have an option to close the credit card account on their web site. Many make it very difficult to reach out to any service executive for this issue. Card closure requires multiple emails and follow-ups. It becomes frustrating for the customers to the point that they vent their frustration on social media and warn people against using that product.

2.2 Unsubscribe email

Some websites make it difficult to unsubscribe emails from them. After a user clicks on the unsubscribe link in the email, they ask users to log in to the website to stop receiving emails. It is likely that users will not remember the password and instead of unsubscribing drop off from the workflow. The user will become frustrated and block all the emails coming from that domain. It is much better to provide an easy opt-out option to the users.

Once a customer has decided to leave, the focus should be on finding out the improvement opportunities and making the transition easy. An unpleasant off-boarding experience leaves a bad taste in customers’ mouth. It diminishes the possibility of customer’s returning in the future. Companies and PMs should think about making the off-boarding experience of their customers smooth. A suboptimal off-boarding experience might be due to non-streamlined business processes which translate to a bad or non-existent product feature. E.g. a business providing rental housing to its customer takes a deposit in advance. The off-boarding experience will be smooth only when there is a streamlined process of assessing the house quality and refunding the deposit.

3. Default opt-in

Many platforms pre-select the opt-in option for their feature or service. They design the UI such that users have to explicitly opt-out of a feature or a service. If users miss opting out, then they are signed up for a paid or promotional offering. This “assumed consent unless explicitly mentioned otherwise” can be extremely frustrating for the users.

You must have observed many websites pre-select donation option when you are about to pay for the purchased items or the flight tickets (image below). Many of the users pay the money because they miss the checkbox. Observe the checkbox in the image below. You would agree that it is easy to overlook. Why was it designed this way?

Assumed consent

Similar tactics are employed while taking the user consent for receiving marketing or promotional emails. While users sign-up for a service, they accept terms and conditions. Generally, there are two checkboxes, one to accept the terms of use and another to subscribe to promotional emails. Both the boxes are selected by default. Users have to deselect one to opt-out of receiving the promotional emails.

According to a study mentioned in the book “Evil by Design”, pre-selecting the consent resulted in a 48% increase in the users opting for receiving promotional emails.

In another scenario, when the option was not selected and the description was changed to “Do not notify me about the future surveys”. The number of users providing the consent (keep checkbox unselected) increased by 98%.

User studies show that the users tend to take the path of least resistance. Users tend to go with the default choices made for them. Many A/B tests also prove that users are more likely to stay with the selected option than to read the details and change it.

4. Below are a few more UI elements that mislead users into making a choice that they might not want

4.1 In the below image, it seems that the “No thanks” button is disabled. It is because of the colour of the button and the text.

4.2 Advertisement banner in many of the websites has a close button that is extremely difficult to locate. Users inadvertently click such ads.

4.3 Many times the options of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) are designed in a manner that it makes it tedious to reach to the customer care executive.

As a PM, you must decide how you want to achieve all the user and business metrics. Will you employ evasive designs to achieve the objectives but lose out on users’ trust or will you make the right design choices?

Disclaimer: I have used images from the existing websites and tried to remove all the identifiers. I don’t wish to point out to a specific website or a business. Views expressed here are mine and not of my employer.

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