Civility's Light Antidote to Dark Patterns

Many companies have developed an expertise in human psychology and emotional manipulation that, when coupled with a sort of modern cynicism, encourages them to engage in underhanded, opaque, and “dark” marketing and design tactics. By employing these tactics, organizations get users to spend more money or click on more ads without having to improve their product or lower their prices. These practices are often referred to as dark patterns. Dark patterns are dehumanizing, destructive, patronizing, and ultimately go against creating long-term value for all parties involved.

We’re advocating for something quite different here at Civility, and we’re calling it “light pattern design.” Light pattern design incorporates the following principles:

  • Incentives matter, and we should have the same ones as you: so here’s ours - we want you to have in-person discussions that you’ll love, you’ll learn from, and you’ll want to tell others about it. Everything we do follows from this. 
  • Your time is a precious resource: you’re allocating some of it towards us for a reason - we should be respectful of that and thus deliver on what we promise as quickly, beautifully, and efficiently as possible. No ads, no distractions, no bullshit.
  • Content can be just as dark as design: The principles of dark pattern design can just as easily be applied to content as to design; “clickbait” is a classic example of this. Light pattern design should be deployed across the user experience, including content.
In practice, this means a number of things for Civility:
  1. We endeavor to make all communication, whether in the form of email, notifications, etc, highly relevant while taking a minimal amount of time for you to parse. 
  2. Wherever possible, we will summarize the essentials that you need to know while nesting the details that you may not need to know immediately (or at all) into links and “further reading”.  
  3. If we create friction -- things that slow you down when you’re attempting to complete an action -- it’s only because we don’t want you to accidentally do something you’ll later regret (such as unintentionally deleting a discussion you’ve created). We will never create friction in an effort to manipulate you for some nefarious purpose, or to keep you from doing something you obviously intend to do.  
  4. It’s incredibly important to align our incentives with your incentives. You’re here for great in-person discussion on a variety of intellectual subjects, so why would we ever show you an ad? If we ever do decide to promote something in the future, it’d only be because our users’ incentives are fully aligned with the thing we’re promoting. (For example, if a cafĂ© opened a room that was specifically designed to stimulate great Civility discussions, we’d tell our users about it.)  
  5. Someday, we’ll need to make money. When that day comes, it’ll be because we’ve demonstrated to you (and many others) that it’s worth a minimal subscription fee to have this kind of intellectually engaging experience be a regular part of your life. Until then, enjoy the Civility discussion experience free of charge.
Further materials:
  1. WTF is Dark Pattern Design? - Comprehensive on the subject, overreaches in places. 
  2. Clip where Steve Jobs warned of this problem decades ago. - Still relevant today.  
  3. Why clickbait works


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