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Say you have stakeholders wanting a certain journey which you deem unethical.

Would you agree that pre-selecting an option for a user before they've even had a chance to read the options is considered a Dark Pattern?

For example, you enter a subscription pricing webpage. The premium option is pre-selected which is double the price of the basic option. This pre-selection isn't very obvious to the user and the 'continue' button is already lit up to indicate you're ready to continue down the purchase funnel.

What are your views/ideas on making this more ethical?

Please note this is purely hypothetical.

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Pre-selecting on its own is not a Dark Pattern, in fact, it's a common pattern called defaulting.

I'd consider defaulting good UX as it alleviates resistance on the path of action. A user is being explicitly opted-in, saving them time and effort. They however, still have full control over what happens. It’s also a form of recommendation or social proof - “since everyone else takes this as it is, I might also do the same”. This is why you often see a price plan accompanied by microcopy with something along the lines of 'x amount of people selected this one too'.

However...

Of course the opt-out strategy is often perceived as controversial as there are those sleazy marketers which will abuse it. One such evil is to diminish the readability of the opt-out text, while another is to use confusing text, such as double negatives. Both examples will result in users being less aware of actually signing up for something. Hence to keep the ethics in check, if you do decide to go with an opt-out approach, do make it very clear and understandable to your customers what they are being defaulted into. - GoodUI

Defaulting is a perfectly fine practise, as long as you explicitly state which plan the user currently has selected. As soon as you feel you are hiding things from your users to trick them, you are going on the wrong foot.

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Even though this may be a hypothetical scenario, I wouldn't be surprised if designers were ask to create patterns and developers asked to implement things similar to what you have described.

Personally I don't think there's such a thing as 'dark patterns' because it is the intent behind the particular design or implementation that makes it unethical. That is, you can implement a particular in the best interest of a user but due to poor execution it might end up causing harm to the user.

But for the sake of answering your question, I think the question is around whether deliberating making information that would affect user decisions harder to find in order to 'nudge' or encourage them into making a particular choice is unethical, and if so how can we minimize the harm.

In a way your question basically serves as the answer because if

The premium option is pre-selected which is double the price of the basic option.

Then you can simply remove the pre-selection or make the price different more obvious to the user.

This pre-selection isn't very obvious to the user and the 'continue' button is already lit up to indicate you're ready to continue down the purchase funnel.

I think there's nothing wrong with highlighting a call-to-action that relates to the next step in the process flow/purchase funnel if you address the issue with the pre-selection not being very obvious.

It would be better to understand what the constraints are with your design choices and why you feel like you are being made to do something that would be not be in line with your ethical boundaries. But from your hypothetical question the obvious answer would be to address the exact issues as you have described to make it less harmful to the end-user.

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