Is Bad UX Sexist?

At first glance, this may give you a slight feeling of absurdity. Admittedly when I read the headline that “Dark UI Patterns” were an example of unintentional sexism, that was my first feeling. But one sentence later I had gained a new perspective on UX design.


It goes without saying that feminism is one of the topics-of-the-moment on the internet and in the world. Everyone is talking about it.

It’s a good thing that people are talking about it, but a bad thing that it is a trend. Trends fade, and feminism — the equality of people, regardless of gender — should be a permanent thing.

Feminism is also interesting from a persuasion and behavior perspective. To persuade men into treating women equally is a complex, important task, because the problem has existed for so long and in so many ways.

It’s fundamental. 

Changing your own behavior is difficult, because your own behaviour is hard to see objectively.

The tough part about sexism is that we can easily contribute to it in small ways without realizing it.

Even as a UX designer. 

If it makes us defensive, or if it feels absurd when someone accuses us of accidentally being sexist, we’re normal. That doesn’t mean we’re bad people, but it does mean we’re contributing to a bad thing. 

If being normal means being sexist, then being normal is wrong.


In this article about unintentional sexism the author claims that Dark UI Patterns (UX design with bad intentions) is a form of sexism.

Even if you’re totally in favor of feminism, that sentence might get pretty close to setting off the “went too far” alarm. But the next paragraph raises a very valid point:

“If you write software that enables harassment and stalking, or makes it difficult for users to protect their personal information, you’re disproportionately driving women off of your platform or making them do extra work. Respecting user’s privacy and emphasizing consent in software design is fundamentally an issue of equality — not just gender, but across the board.”

— Quoted from Ways Men in Tech are Unintentionally Sexist


Throughout this blog, you will notice that I am always promoting the idea that the business goals and user goals should be the same thing.

I may not have considered the specific sexist consequences of ignoring that advice, but it only adds weight to an already important principle.

User goals are not just part of your UX checklist. People matter.

In fact, selfish UX design is even bigger than that, as the quoted paragraph says. If you’re shifting the control away from the user, you’re shifting it toward people who may have an incentive to be abusive.

Marsh’s Law: Any feature that can be abused, will eventually be abused.


If you have ever heard a better reason for getting good at information architecture and interaction design, I would like to hear it.