Is it a dark pattern to change Radio buttons into a Dropdown in order to default to a particular option? The default option is the best deal and recommended for the user. However we still want to keep the other options. One idea was to not make all the options visible at first glance by hiding them within a select box so that more users choose the recommended option.

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    Patterns are not 'dark' or 'light', but the intent behind the usage of the particular pattern makes it so. You can default to a particular option regardless of whether you use radio buttons or dropdowns, so the decision should be based on what is the most appropriate UI element for presenting the options (e.g. number of items, consistency, etc).
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 0:27
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    bad ux != dark pattern
    – Blue Ocean
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 3:36
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    A dark pattern is designed to deceive the user.
    – SteveD
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 9:20

2 Answers 2


First, radio buttons can have a default. So, at issue here isn't the fact that a dropdown affords you a default selection and radio buttons don't. What you are doing by switching from radio buttons to a dropdown is hiding the other options from plain view.

  • If you are using a dropdown list to hide options from users because you've assumed they want/need a certain thing, then you might be making the UX worse by hiding the available options and making users go through more hassle to find what they actually want.
  • If you are using the dropdown list to hide options from users because you don't want them to choose those options (and you're justifying it to yourself/your boss/us by saying that option is "the best" for your users), that is definitely a dark pattern.

At the core of user experience design is user research. You need to make decisions based on your understanding of the goals, needs, and contexts of real people when they're using your design. In your question and in your comment on another answer, you've said that you'd like to have a default option because "the recommended option will benefit the user more than the other options." Unless you have come to that conclusion by interviewing and studying the real people using your product, that is an assumption (at best). Basing designs on an assumption is risky; using designs to manipulate users into choosing what's best for your business (but not necessarily for themselves) is where it becomes a "dark pattern."

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    I want to add something to this answer: the concept of "it's best for both the company AND the user" made me chuckle, it would be the first time I see it, at least that Ican remember. Your second point puts this situation black on white and is probably the reason why OP is concerned about doing a dark pattern (because he is)
    – Devin
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 17:35
  • Yeah, I had a bit of an internal chuckle at that as well. Not to disparage the OP, though, because I think we're all susceptible to that kind of thinking, especially after several meetings with stakeholders "pitching" the benefits of some idea. That's why research is so important—keeps everyone honest. (Or, it should.)
    – Nate Green
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 18:48
  • The scenario is that the recommended option leads to the success of the user. Our business is based on commissions and so we only benefit if the user succeeds. The other options might be what they are habitually used to. However the other options are statistically shown to lead to the user's failure. Their perceived "wants" in this scenario do not lead to their underlying goal of succeeding Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 23:06
  • @MarkAgbuya If the other options lead to "failure" then why do you even give them options? But regardless, I feel like it'd be better to just explain to them why the recommended option is better, and let them make an informed decision. (You're the designer, though. We've given you an idea of what you should watch out for, but you get to make the decision. :) )
    – Nate Green
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 15:59
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    I agree that it is better to explain to them why the recommended option is better. We're now looking deeper into the design and considering removing the options altogether too (The dropdown was previously an interim step to removing the other options altogether). Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 22:50

Are you doing this with the interest of the user at heart or are you doing this to benefit the business?

If the default option is the best for the user, then hiding the other options in the dropdown is beneficial and thus not a dark pattern.

Conversely, if the selection is for say payment packages and you put the most expense one as the default and hide the rest of the cheaper options in the dropdown, then it's a dark pattern.

  • 1
    It is for the interest of both the user and the business. The recommended option will benefit the user more than the other options. So a dark pattern more-so depends on the content rather than the design itself? What if the user habitually wants to use one of the non-recommended columns? Moving to a dropdown conflicts against a user's habits but recommends the best option for them. Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 0:14
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    @MarkAgbuya yes, dark or light is about the content, not the methods. blackhat and whitehat hackers use the same tools for different goals. similar witg UX. Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 11:39

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