Talk Club Sessions: #1 Dark patterns

Introducing The Talk Club: informal sessions to discuss anything related to technology and our work. In this first session we talk about Dark Patterns: what are them, how we can avoid implementing them, industry ethics (or the lack of) and how a metrics obsessed mindset can destroy everything.

From Lunch talks to The Talk Club™

During this year we had a few posts on the lunch talks series: every two weeks one of us would prepare a video playlist around a topic and then we watched the videos during our lunchtime.

It was a nice experience but it had some issues:

  • Only the people that were at the office could watch the talks at the same time
  • We were forcing everyone to do the same at the same time, not having much flexibility
  • Not a lot of discussions sparked since we didn't have a lot of time after watching the videos

For these many reasons, we decided to try a new approach: The Talk Club! It's like a book club but not limited to books: anything we can learn from can be discussed.

Instead of forcing everyone to do the same altogether, we propose a date to talk about an interesting video, article or piece of technology. People consume the content at their own preferred time and pace, take some notes, prepare some questions or topics to talk about, and then we have a nice chat in a remote-friendly meeting.

Dark patterns

In this first session we talked about Dark Patterns: User Interfaces Designed to Trick People:

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn't mean to, like buying or signing up for something

This video by Harry Brignull from 2014 introduces the concept of Dark Patterns, it's just 30 minutes long and a highly recommended watch. If you are in a hurry or just want a a compact and short version you can try How Dark Patterns Trick You Online from Nerdwriter.

This isn't a new topic, but it was nonetheless interesting. We spent over an hour discussing the various patterns and discovered we've also resorted to them in some occasions.

The conversation triggered some interesting topics and questions:

  • Should there be an ethics code for the industry? If so, how could it be even implemented?
  • How can we persuade our own clients not to use this kind of practices? Especially when they are so effective
  • As software developers, how should we deal when a manager tells us to implement a dark pattern? Could I lose my job if I object to do it?
  • When working in Decidim, we were able to say no to some features since we were backed by its social contract. Having such contracts empowers developers into taking responsibility and prevents discussions about whether something should make into the product or not
  • In other industries, such as food or ads, there are laws against what could be considered dark patterns, would it be possible to create similar laws for the digital world?
  • We (as an industry) seem to be obsessed by metrics, and making every decision based on how well are we performing on said metrics. This seems to push people into using more doubtful techniques to keep the numbers growing, even at the cost of the user experience (see Goodhart's law)

As you can see, we didn't change the world or even get some answers, but I couldn't be happier with this first edition. We had a very nice chat and it made us think and reflect on our work. I'm sure these conversations will have an impact in our future work and I'm eager to share more experiences like this in the upcoming months, I highly recommend trying this with your team!

Further reading