Know a website that tries to deceive the user? It just might be wearing a black hat.

A few weeks ago we were user testing for a popular VPN service. Their security consultant hired us to find out how to improve revenue. Although they were AB testing and making continuous improvements to their site, the app design had been developer-led, and their consultant felt there was room for growth.

After talking to eight user-testing participants, we discovered a number of major flaws in the sign-up process. These flaws seemed underhanded and intentional in their deception. While there is no way to prove the validity of this assessment, it reminded us of the practice of Black Hat UX. What was so Black Hat about it? We’ll get to that.

Sorting the Good Guys from the Bad Guys—One Hat at a Time

The term “black hat” has its roots in western movies. Hat colors were used to distinguish the bad guys (wearing black hats,) from the “good guys” (wearing white hats.) In UX it describes the act of intentionally creating a suboptimal user experience. At ZIV we take it a step further and see it as the act of deceiving the user by withholding key information or creating confusing, convoluted interactions.

In the case of this client, they withheld key information like a no refund policy. This, paired with three-day cancellation period, quickly trapped users into a year-long commitment when they could have been offered a month-to-month alternative that kicks in once the trial has ended.

“At ZIV we take it a step further and see Black Hat UX as the act of deceiving the user by withholding key information or creating confusing, convoluted interactions.”
The Real Life Implications

Although you can trick users using black hat UX to increase certain numbers such as conversion rate, or decrease other numbers like shopping cart abandonment, the practice is not only unethical, in the long run, it hurts the user, the user experience, and your company.

If you’re employing Black Hat techniques on your site or would like to know if you are, and would like to shift to a brand loyalty approach to client retention, call ZIV. We’ll put on our white hats and help you do the same. Your customers will become raving fans, and you’ll be in the know and on your way to long-term success.

More About the Agency Partner

ZIV has offices in greater Kansas City and Denver, CO. Whether it’s creating a brand, implementing a digital solution to disrupt an industry, transforming a customer’s experience to gain loyalty, or executing a marketing strategy for needed growth – they’ve got you covered. Explore their capabilities and past work at

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