5 perverse design patterns that mess your brain


When it happens: when you receive a message trough Facebook, WhatsApp or similar media and, after opening the conversation, the other person is told that you read the message.

Why it is perverse: it creates an inner compromise with the other person based on the fact that you know, and therefore you must do something about it. If you wait too much, it may seem that you are ignoring the other part, so you will feel pushed to correspond with feedback in a reasonable period of time. This can lead to vague placeholder responses, anxiety on complex matters and misunderstandings.

What the alternatives are: just avoiding to place it and play with online/offline statuses. People is free to take their time, moreover if everything is media-biased. Nowadays citizens suffer information overload, and pushing them to respond to such overload only leads to uneasiness. Media must allow people to say no to it.

Personal thoughts: if people is getting tired of Facebook, it is not just because they are pushed to produce media nobody is really interested to see, but also because Facebook is putting the stability of their social relations in danger by forcing everybody to talk to everybody even when there is not much to say. We are comparing our traditional language codes with the digital and that does not seem a good idea; because we are not machines, our machines must not force us to deal with them as if they were human.

Infinite scrolling

When it happens: when you are searching for information and then scroll for more, and more gets loaded, and then more, up to the infinite so there is no way of reaching a «bottom line» unless you exhaust all the content.

Why it is perverse: it lacks of quality criteria and merely emphasizes quantity. It creates the expectation that you will eventually reach your goal, although it does not offer a clear way of reaching anything but constitutes a gambling approach to information. As if it was a casino, you roll your wheel or slide your finger with the hope that there will be light at the end of the tunel. Unfortunately, there is hardly any light; but your expectations fuel the system trough lots of almost-it. In the meanwhile, they will track where you click and will show adds (noise).

What the alternatives are: pagination, categories, tags, search forms. Anything that narrows the scope the more the user chases a goal.

Personal thoughts: infinite scrolling is making people look like zombies. In practice, it delivers fake promises full of viral titles —which content is not that good after all—, friends with a seemingly more interesting lives and a lot of uninteresting noise; however, it creates a gambling feedback loop that makes people uncritical about what they are exactly looking for but a brain-prize. Same as giving a cookie to the good dog. The only case when it seems legitimate is when it is used to display data that has been retrieved trough a proper search function fencing the output.

Information placeholders

When it happens: when you are scrolling infinitely trough a list of content and the information has not yet been loaded, you get a mock-up drawing that will be later on substituted by the real content.

Why it is perverse: it distracts attention and creates the expectancy that the information that will be loaded will be somehow relevant. Nevertheless, a placeholder does not ensure what you get will be really meaningful.

What the alternatives are: browsers include loading bars that indicate how much of the document has been loaded, along with search functions. In case this was not possible, placing a «more» button will make the user aware that there is too much information to surf without search criteria. Pagination is a good old-school trick.

Personal thoughts: dynamic loading can be used for great purposes, such as real-time search filtering, dashboard solutions or workgroup applications on the mood of Google’s suite. Using it as an emotional hook sounds careless towards the user’s willpower.


When it happens: when you publish a content on a social network and you contacts can mark it as favorite, liked, worth, thanked, and so.

Why it is perverse: it seems like a Like, but it creates a loop of social acceptance in which not getting any like in comparison to others feel like being irrelevant or ignored. If you do not get liked enough, you may start feeling bad.

What the alternatives are: not putting anything and let sharing speak by itself, encouraging debate, implementing voting functions that make opinions more «colorful».

Personal thoughts: liking content was Facebook’s emblem and tracking system, and nowadays is making many users feel reluctant to sharing content with their contacts as they do not want to face its most usual counterpart: feeling ignored. This mechanism may create a descending participation loop. Contrary on twitter, where perishing short comments match perishing likes, same as people laughing at jokes on informal conversations.

Login to…

When it happens: when you want to interact in a place you do not visit often, and the price for it is allowing the site to access your Facebook/Twitter/G+ credentials or either giving away registration data, email verification included.

Why it is perverse: it encourages monitoring over participation, and makes the task of keeping privacy consistent very difficult. It also sounds like some sort of blackmail in which speaking your mind is paid with networking your identity trough different sites.

What the alternatives are: anonymous, captcha-driven commenting. Everybody should be allowed to change identity or to unveil themselves, as they please. Anonymity should be Internet’s channel specificity unless users really want to reveal themselves or were hurting others.

Personal thoughts: there is a big debate on how much a persons should be forced to identify themselves on the Internet. In my opinion, privacy is even secondary on this subject; the problem lies on the fact that, as we address different publics during our social interactions, we may not want someone to be able to track and put together all our opinions in different contexts; therefore it is a matter of circles, reputation and behavioral discretion. Allowing us to state an opinion while being discrete about our identity is the easiest way of cutting the breadcrumbs that interconnect our digital footprint, too. This matters, in example, when looking for a new job; it does have more to do with how politics work than with conspiracies or anonymity totalitarianism.


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