IA Summit ’08: Day 1

Today I attended the session on design patterns presented by Christian Crumlish, Erin Malone, and Lucas Pettinati of Yahoo.  The topic was directly relevant to my work.  They’ve done the UX community a tremendous service by sharing their work so publicly.  Today they even provided all of the attendees with thumbdrives preloaded with templates and stencils of the various patterns from their library.

I took particular interest in these points:

  • I had a question about whether there’s a useful distinction between patterns and standards.  Livia Lebate had an interesting perspective, suggesting that patterns are not sensitive to context.  A pattern is natively abstracted from any usage; once you apply it to particular context, it becomes an instance of that pattern.  It might not be a standard, but all standards are specific to some context.
  • Granularity was another important issue.  For example, you could say that something like a logon is a pattern. Or instead, you could break logons down into smaller patterns like username and password fields, “remember me” cookies, and password reclamation functions.  The presenters suggested that such pieces only rise to the level of a pattern when they might occur in contexts separate from the parent pattern.
  • Christian said that Yahoo’s pattern library started by focusing on atomic page elements, rather that patterns that occur across multiple pages.  This was because they were easier to write and provided immediate value to Yahoo’s developers.
  • Providing wireframes and code samples in a package with patterns strongly encourages their adoption, because it makes other people’s jobs easier.
  • Designers may find it difficult to browse a pattern library by its titles.  Images are really important to them… perhaps having an option to browse patterns by thumbnails?
  • I noted that it might be useful to document patterns in their simplest possible state, then describe the variations that can be applied to it.  So a slider only absolutely needs to have a track, slide control, and a display of the current value.  To that, you can add tick marks, midpoints, additional slide controls, etc.
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2 comments so far

  1. Jody on

    This is great stuff, John. Keep absorbing!

  2. Keith Instone on

    Hi John – thanks for the quick recap. As for patterns vs. standards, it really depends on how you define “standards”. There are many types of standards. To me a “standard” means then there is a “standards cop” out there who will catch you if you break them. This is different from guidelines (you are smart to follow them but we won’t beat you up over them) and best practices and patterns. Track me down at the Summit and we can talk more about this.


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