Is Facebook Messenger still experimenting with dark UX?

As of June 2015, Facebook Messenger had about 700 million users, despite a forced adoption in the beginning that sparked controversy, false privacy issues that went viral and a very low rating in app stores. Facebook users in general are fairly conditioned to rant and shout about changes, but typically get over those changes fairly quickly. Most of my friends and family are using now.

But yesterday I noticed something I’ve never seen before at the bottom of my screen.

I was intrigued. The Settings cog has an alert on it, in the same style as message alerts appear over the Recent icon to the left. To the typical iOS user, we might think there’s an important update, as we see this on our Settings app whenever there’s an iOS update.

But tapping this cog bring us here:

When I got to this screen, I felt there was an error or a problem with my notifications due to seeing the exclamation alert. So I tapped the screen to fix this problem.

Some annoyance started to set in when I got to this screen. I began to suspect that Messenger wants me to change some preference I’ve already set, even though it was my decision. (BTW — I currently receive notifications for Messenger…and am satisfied with my experience.) But how do I turn off the alert? I go on…

Now I see there’s no longer any red alert or indicator anywhere, and that my notifications are turned on, as I thought. But even as I back-track through the screens, the red alert remains in all previous locations. Why?

While this may seem more of a rant than anything else, it’s a perfect example of a dark pattern. Dark pattern is a term in the UX world that refers to user interface interactions that persuade the user to do something they may not really want to do. While this dark pattern is not as dangerous as the one LinkedIn was recently accused of, it demonstrates that the Facebook Messenger design team is not afraid of using them.

As user experience designers, our jobs are to create delightful, engaging and memorable interactions with our users. Technology is not easy for everyone to use. Users of any capability should feel at ease, free to choose their own preferences and style. The last thing a product should do is try to dictate the preferences or experience for a user by making them believe there is a problem to solve, when the problem is the designed experience itself.

Designer. Yogi. Music Producer. Foodie.

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