Rationalizing Dark Patterns: Examining the Process of Designing Privacy UX Through Speculative Enactments
Lei Nelissen, Mathias Funk


Connected products and applications increasingly leverage users’ personal data in their core functions. Designing privacy-sensitive interfaces for such data-related applications is a delicate craft. There is often tension between designers and changing user perceptions of privacy, data monetization, legal requirements, and organizational power structures, often resulting in designer complicity in privacy violations. This work examines the process of designing privacy-oriented interfaces in terms of compliance, ethics, and creativity, and specifically how designers weigh competing interests in resolving an ethical conflict. We study this through a speculative enactment, ChoiceBox, in which 33 design students and professional designers explore UX design through a privacy lens with a series of fictional clients. The resulting interviews and wireframes are analyzed for Privacy UX insights. The results show a limited awareness of how legal principles affect design practice, and how some designers easily violated boundaries in terms of ethics—even their own. We show how designers are not immune to enacting and rationalizing dark patterns of Privacy UX, and how speculative enactments can be a tool to foreground crucial issues of friction and ambiguity regarding end-user privacy and data protection in design education and practice.

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