Dark Pattern #1: One Way Streets

January 6, 2020
Quintin Carlson

I dare you to try to cancel your recurring subscription.

The first dark pattern we are honoring is the “one-way upgrade.” As a design manager, it falls on my shoulders to manage the billing of the many design SaaS services we use. (Too many services, if I’m being frank.) From new research tools like Lookback to design industry staples like Sketch.app and Adobe Creative Cloud — almost every SaaS tool has rolled out a license management center to add and remove team members and manage billing in a central location.

Adobe’s “Admin Console” is their home to license management for their Creative Cloud for Teams service. This dark corner of the internet features a notorious dark pattern, which I’ve come to call the “One Way Street.” Adobe makes it dead simple to add new products and seats to my account with a single click but abdicates all responsibility when it comes to stopping the recurring billing.

There are many spaces throughout the product that entice you with easy ways to add licenses and spend money:

The primary CTA is a beautiful one-way street to pay Adobe more money.
Adding licenses is a delightful experience, with clear pricing changes.

However, removing licenses is hidden. Even in their Help Center search results, there are no articles titled in a way that would provide a straightforward guide to removing licenses.

Their built-in product help does not even reference the concept of removing seats.

Easy to Add. Impossible to Remove.

While adding licenses is a simple, straightforward process, removing seats is absolutely not. To remove any seat, you must call their support team. Sure, Adobe’s interface suggests a one-click way to remove users. In reality, that does remove the user but does nothing to change the recurring cost of their license.

Removing users does nothing to remove recurring billing.

To add insult to injury, Adobe requires you to speak to a minimum of three people before your cancellation is processed. Of course, there are no options in their phone tree or interactive voice response system to jump to cancellation.

In our personal experience, this might not even be enough to remove licenses from your account successfully. It took multiple phone calls, with numerous promises to cancel our seats before they were indeed removed. We continued to be charged for seats they promised we cancelled until I happened to log in and find out our licenses were, in fact, not canceled.

Adobe isn’t the only company where cancellations confirmations are delayed until after your phone call and are obfuscated as “customer support tickets” that have been resolved. We've seen this behavior occur in other enterprise SaaS products, but the lack of transparency does nothing but erode trust in their product and brand. Frustratingly, only after the end of the current billing period can you see the requested changes take effect in your Admin Console. This leads to multiple billing cycles passing between re-requesting cancellation of licenses.

An oh-so-specific email confirming that my number of active licenses have changed.

Antidote: Transparent, self-service billing

Some tools make managing team billing downright delightful. Take Abstract — a version control tool for Sketch.app files.

When I need to remove a paid license from their account, a dialog appears, and as I change license count, I’m shown both our new ongoing charges and the billing credit I’ll receive from downgrading. When removing paid users from the organization, I’m prompted to also remove their license to prevent accidental over billing. It's the perfect way to manage per-seat billing.

Abstract makes removing users a damn delight.

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