Negative options (don’t not sign up)

Sign people up by default and make it harder for them to un-sign than to continue down your preferred path. Use desire lines to hide the sign-up in plain sight.


  • However good we get at spotting the marketing opt-in check boxes on registration forms, it seems we still must read them extremely carefully. Is the box prechecked? Is it offering to opt us in or to opt us out? Is the second box, which talks about sharing details with third parties, also prechecked? And is that one opt in or opt out?
Confusing opt-in and opt-out check boxes (negative options) on Hotel Chocolat's site.
Hotel Chocolat’s opt-in and opt-out check boxes make it hard to know which is the negative option.
  • Book-of-the-month clubs keep sending you books unless you specifically say you don’t want them.


Inertia (sloth) means that you’re less likely to make the effort to unsubscribe after you’re signed up. This is the basis of negative options: Sign people up to receive something until they specifically choose to stop receiving it.

How to use this pattern

  • Choose your type of negative option and design around it:
    • Prenotification: Draw people in with reduced-price offers, and then recoup your money over the minimum subscription period.
    • Continuity: Stress the benefits of regular updates and the lower relative cost compared to the nonsubscription rate.
    • Auto-renewal: Emphasize the savings that customers will obtain over the course of the subscription; de-emphasize that you’ll be charging them for the next subscription automatically.
    • Free-to-pay: Offer a free trial period, but capture credit card information anyway. Believable reasons for gathering card information may be to verify an account, to charge a nominal fee, or to pay for a separate transaction. Many customers will forget they have signed up by the time the trial period is over.
  • Integrate your signup requests within flows that users complete in a semi-automatic manner such as registration or checkout.
  • Use button labels like “Continue” or “Yes” to associate the negative option offer with the flow that it is integrated into.
  • Offer subsequent opt-out of the service, but require users to perform a difficult task (completing and mailing in a paper form, for instance) to opt out. This leads to large cancellation abandonment rates.