A Pattern Language for Digital Spaces: a booklet of illustrations

We increasingly live in digital spaces. Ideal digital spaces build connections and nourish minds, collectively owned and changed by us the inhabitants: a form of space more humane than what we have now.

To collectively explore and summon dreams into reality, we need a common language. A language made of behavior-shaping patterns in the digital space that have proven to work for us, drawn from the short but vast history of the internet.

I will put together a list of patterns, with a similar multi-scale structure as A Pattern Language, but using mostly illustrations. The result will be a booklet that serves as the beginning of a pattern language, through which more people can be conscious of how structures in digital spaces shape our minds, and how we can together envision and articulate the digital spaces that truly work for us.


Pattern language originated from architecture to enable people to shape their dwellings. In the physical world, with the specialized construction process, few retain the agency to do so. The digital world, with the proliferation of protocols and the simplifying of programming, provides a better chance. We need to summarize experiences and imagine a path forward together, and that’s why it’s important to identify patterns and shape them into languages.

The patterns will focus less on how information is transferred, but more on how our behavior is shaped. Think about how content ranking and recommendations pages act as public town squares to connect strangers, and how those connections deepen in semi-public spaces such as posts, threads, or groups. Or how a group of people with shared interests are summoned to a group, meet and build trust in the physical world, and extend that trust and conversation online.

How do we know a pattern has been working and is worth summarizing? Architect Christopher Alexander refers to “the quality without a name”: “a root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness”. Similar to “alive”, “whole”, “comfortable”, or “egoless”, but not the same: it enables the inhabitants to be so. In a digital space, we can see it in the vibe of a community, the authenticity of content, and the depth of resonance.

When reflecting on the noisy nature of social media, philosopher Byung-Chul Han noted: “The medium of thinking is quiet… Addition — which generates communicative noise — does not follow the way of spirit.” The quietness is harder to access but is essential for making sense of the world. As Alexander put it, “It is a slightly bitter quality”. And it is what I will be looking for: the quality and quietness that can shield us from the constant hype generated by capitalism.

This topic has inhabited me for years, during which I have built digital spaces, organized workshops, and learned from others thinking along the same path. One digital space that I helped build and learned from is Matters Town, popular among Chinese-speaking communities across the globe. One recent discussion I helped curate was ZuConnect Decentralized Social Day, which covers many topics in this direction.

As one of the Chinese diaspora, I treat the unique struggle I have observed and experienced as an opportunity. Without a well-functioning civil society and an authoritarian government entrenching, people must be more conscious about building and sustaining trust, and more intentional in curating authenticity and freedom in thinking and speaking. I will heavily draw from such experiences, as I believe it is reflective of a more universal struggle for agency in our age.

The process of this booklet will be open source and participatory on GitHub, where anyone can propose patterns and examples they think are suitable.


Yes! So many people think of digital spaces as tool selection — when in fact designing them has so many more interaction dimensions.

Looking forward to this.


Yes, it’s so much more to tool selection!

I think pattern language is useful because it treats “design” and “technology” on a continuous scale while making it conscious that we are making decisions for the nourishment of the inhabitants.


this is great! just dropping some references that might be helpful here for your research