What Can Designers Learn From Spammers and Scammers?

April 15, 2014

Teacher at BlackboardYesterday I told you about all the extra junk you’ll often receive when you install free software. As designers, we can all learn something from the tactics used by the scams involved in getting you to install the extra junk. These lessons can also come from the spam that floods our inboxes every day.

Let’s focus on how you are tricked into installing extra junk. Obviously the product you desire is marketed as free and that is the magic price.

The first thing you see on the Web page is a big green button with “Download Now” or some other verbage that is just begging you to click the link. Even though there is a text link just below the button where you can get the same software without the extra junk, very few users see it.

So if you are designing something and you want a specific action to be taken, make it as obvious as that big green “Download Now” button. Don’t hide the desired action in the small print.

Even after you download the version of the free software with all the extra junk, you still go through several dialog boxes where you can choose not to install it. Except these dialogs are designed to convince you to install the stuff you don’t want. How many times do you read the text in a dialog box with an “I agree” button at the bottom? Rarely does anyone read this stuff. The freebie software dialogs are designed so that you’ll click I agree even though you have the option to click Decline.

People don’t generally click Decline because they think it means they won’t get the free software they desire. Yet if they read the small print, they’d realize Decline was the correct answer. I can tell you that even if the answers are provided, most people won’t read the answer in front of their face. And those who do read often, often misinterpret to get the meaning they desire.

I’m not suggesting any of you create designs that will trick customers into doing something as scammy as with the free software installing extra junk or the spam that promises who knows what. The key is that even legitimate companies with legitimate products and services can create a design that guides their customers to the desired outcome.

On the note of designing to help potential customers, we’ve recently made a few changes to our Web site that we hope will simplify things for you. At the top of each page is a toolbar with three items (along with our name). First, a button that takes you to a page where you can get free subscriptions to our publications. We want you to subscribe and it truly is free. Next is a language selector. For those who do not speak English as a native language, this allows you to translate the page into the language of your choice. On the right is a search box where you can search our site for the answer you desire.

Along with the bar added at the top of the page, we also redesigned the drop-down menus at the top of each page to give you an easy way to navigate to the most popular pages and sections of our site. I hope that these two changes are both helpful to you. Of course we also hope that you find some products that will help you and that you purchase those products.

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