Notes from Patterns Day 2017

On Friday I went to Brighton for Patterns Day.

I was hoping to hear from the day’s speakers lessons to better our design patterns. I wasn’t disappointed:

Do we need a pattern library?

Laura Elizabeth said first, ‘Question your need for patterns. Ask is the effort of making and maintaining patterns equal to what teams or organisations get out of having some?’. Remember ‘We’re not creating a design system, we’re creating a solution to a problem.’

Laura also talked about the necessity of getting decision makers to back patterns. Otherwise they die from lack of money and attention.

Stories about saved time and better consistency aren’t enough to get backing. You need metrics too; How many services are using the patterns. How much value teams building services and people using them get from patterns? How does this vary from one service to another?

For the design patterns in the Permissions Catalogue it could be about making services more trustworthy. As our lives become increasingly connected, trust becomes more important to distinguish the companies we buy products from. How can we measure trust?

A language to discuss and design things

Ellen de Vries talked about the history of patterns to design things. From dance moves, to buildings, to the Web.

Naming things gives people language to discuss and design them better. This is what the Data Permissions Catalogue has done so far. It’s allowed us to have better conversations about data, privacy and security.

Ellen said ‘Breakdown design into their tiniest parts. Then you can understand what part does what’. This is interesting for us as we can question and test what parts of each pattern people do and don’t trust.

Getting people to use patterns

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Alice Bartlett talked about building patterns the teams at Financial Times will actually use. That using patterns, even if they’ve been made especially for you, is ultimately a choice. That patterns compete with other designs and software, so you better make sure your patterns are:

  • super simple to use
  • documented clearly
  • marketed the right way to the right people

Patterns don’t come with ethics

Patterns Day Paul Lloyd Jpg

One of the most interesting things Paul Robert Lloyd said was that patterns don’t come with ethics. Each pattern has potential for misuse. As more design teams produce and use patterns, should we be asking, 'who does your design system serve?'

How should our patterns work?

Patterns Day Alla Kholmatova

Alla Kholmatova finished up Patterns Day. She went through examples to show the different models patterns can take:

  • strict or loose rules for following them
  • modular or integrated parts
  • organised centrally or distributed out

Each option will affect patterns; how many people adopt them; how closely they they’re copied; how many people contribute back.

The day got me thinking about what’s involved to get good patterns into services. That we need to work hard to make the right thing the easiest thing for teams building services to do.

If you're interested in data permission patterns, do get in touch. Over the next few months we’ll be starting lots of new work on them.

Also keep an eye on our blog and sign up for our Trust & Design meetup

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