Dark Patterns in BS (or Bulldust, if you Prefer)

Let’s get this out of the way first. Due to my Bible-Belt raising and some other philosophical commitments, I have a reservation about spelling the word represented as “BS” out. I will readily admit, however, that it’s hard to find a substitute.

This guy has put a lot of thought into that very topic. By the way, he also wrote an excellent book focused on reducing BS in business and professional writing, which touches on part of the problems I want to discuss, but not all.

He’d also tell me to cut out this entire preamble out and start with the next section, so click here if you agree with him.

However, I wanted to explain my dilemma and give credit where due for my chosen store-brand substitute from Australia: Bulldust (see comments in the linked article).

I like this word not just as a euphemism, but because it’s a little different. It suggests a substance which people may sprinkle around indiscriminately, like the better-known “magic fairy dust,” which people metaphorically (and sometimes literally) try to use to solve problems. Problems like not knowing what they’re talking about, or being untruthful.

I should also mention that my employer, Platform.sh (whom I am not speaking for in my blog) internally references used to internally reference “No Bull—-” (completely spelled out proud) as one of our core company values, and I love loved that. We are a little more polite externally and now say “We’re fair and tell it like it is,” but please note that the illustration is not that of a chicken, donkey, or any other farm animal.

Screen shot from https://platform.sh/company/careers/ (apply for a job while you’re there)

So you were saying about, uh, “bulldust”?

I’ve been musing about this topic for some time. Especially after I spent a year (2019) trying to support myself in consulting, a very bulldust-adjacent industry. Before that, I was in industries (advertising specialty, web development) which seemed very bulldust-adjacent, and even served on the board of a chamber of commerce and a civic club (arguably bulldust-centric).

In all those experiences (and in buying cars, buying houses, returning things at Best Buy, etc.) I have experienced bulldust. As have we all. But I’ve become curious about how and why bulldust is so prevalent in some situations, and less so in others. What motivates people to spread it around? How can you avoid or at least minimize it?

I won’t bulldust you; I have no idea. But I do have plenty of opinions, which I hope to develop in some future segments. In User Experience (UX) circles, experts often talk about “dark patterns” – the presentation of data and designs which are deliberately chosen to mislead, trick, and manipulate. This is central to my ideas about bulldust that I hope to talk more about. The following is not a table of contents, but a sampling of thoughts that I may (or may not) succeed in developing blog posts about for this topic:

  • How to know when a situation is irredeemably dipped in bulldust. (example: MLM schemes)
  • Making the most of a bulldust-adjacent situation. (like buying a car)
  • Career choices, bulldust, and you (why I’ve really enjoyed working in tech, even though I’m not all that technical)
  • Clients, job interviews, recruiters, and bulldust (oh my!)
  • Cleaning up after bulldust (yours or theirs)
  • I’m a salesperson and I know what you’re doing (why it’s so infuriating when you both know it’s bulldust)
  • The $50,000, $5,000, and/or $500 per month bulldust options (or why it’s so hard to find a good consultant)

I may think of more later; all of these may not make the cut. I’m just writing them down for now to get this out of my head. It may turn into a few more blog posts, a Ted talk, or not much of anything.

Until next time – watch your step!