Designing for Value Systems: Part I

Last week I led a 30 minute, focused conversation connecting the readings on dark patterns in UI with the mission statement and value promise of JUST – our partnered client in this years Capstone projects.

The goal was to make assumptive leaps around what other values we could tease out of the organizations message – values that might pertain to the organization, the clients, or both. And then to see how these values emerge, or don’t, through examples of dark and light patterns in user interface design.

Setting the Stage

I wanted to preface the conversation and activities with two takeaways I’d had from our introductory session with JUST President and CEO, Steve Wanta, and their Director of Design and Research, Erika Ortiz.

They both spoke about using intentional friction on two levels – to create space for mental slack, and also to nudge toward a desired behavioral outcome that would be beneficial to both JUST and their client. Additionally, there was a curiosity around wanting to understand how JUST could manufacture role models or ‘aha’ moments to inspire, educate, or empower.

I wanted to present both of these takeaways as something to hold in the back of our minds as we moved through several exercises.

Activity #1 – Making Value Assumptions

Lauren read aloud the JUST mission statement and value promise. Using Scattergories boards and a sand timer, we took 3 minutes to unpack what values might be important to JUST and their clients.

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Sean added these to a white board as we called out one value at a time, crossing off duplicates as we went.


As a facilitator, it was exciting to witness the energy and curiosity that created. While I intuitively grabbed the game on my way out the door, I hadn’t anticipated how it could be structured into the conversation until we were all interacting with it.

We were all surprised to see how many we had come up with as several of us expected to have the same set of answers. There were some hmm’s and ahh’s.

The conversation that followed led us into how and when we consider a person’s values – at what stage of the ‘design’ process? Does it begin when we engage them in conversation? Is it when we start to move from problem space to opportunity space?

Activity #2 – Matching Values to UI Design

Using some of the examples from our readings of bad UI as well as several examples of good UI – that the internet graciously culled for me – we asked ourselves two questions:

Based on this list of value assumptions, does this example support, reinforce or engage a user in their values? Or does this example negate, subvert or devalue a user based on these values?


The exercise created room for conversation, particularly around those examples that weren’t so easily placed:

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We closed out the conversation with a question borrowed from the Liberating Structures library of exercises. By then we’d run out of time to reflect on this together. In the future, I would anticipate this potential outcome and print a takeaway so folks could consider this on their own time, and perhaps spark conversation down the road.

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As I understand it, good facilitation is a product of thoughtful preparation – considering what the boundaries of the conversation should roughly be, what activity could promote understanding, curiosity or engagement. It also requires leadership – to know when to reel a conversation in, to push it forward, or pull in perspectives that might be missing.

In writing this post, it was tempting to set down words that are buzzy – that make sense on a “smart” level. But when I step back to think about the experience, I take myself back to the feeling. What did I feel during that process? What did I notice in other people? What was the energy? What was the vibe? The tone? When were people engaged or disengaged? What visual cues communicated this to me? Did they like it??

Facilitation Rubric

This diagram is a rough stab at visualizing what goes into thoughtful preparation for me. The questions I’m asking afterward are similar to the questions I’m asking at the outset. How can I set a stage with these in mind?


Here are a few things I would refine in the future:

  • Include a clear objective and takeaway on the slide deck! Since I was using one it would have made sense to clearly state this and use the deck as a tool for helping people digest the goal and the desired outcome.
  • Get into the activity quicker to allow more time for group reflection and conversation, both during and after.
  • Tell people what they’re in charge of rather than asking them to volunteer for roles. Everyone is expecting, and needing, that kind of take charge confidence.
  • Prepare a takeaway in the event your conclusion builds toward reflection, or something that begs further consideration.

If you have additional thoughts on how I could build or improve on the activities listed above – please reach out to me!