Show Me, Don’t Tell Me: Pattern Galleries vs Pattern Libraries

I read a post on Boxes and Arrows this week titled Are Design Patterns an Anti-Pattern? where Stephen Turbek outlines the pitfalls of pattern libraries. This got me thinking about a UIE talk a couple of months back where Stephen Anderson ‘vilified’ the set of RIA screen patterns Bill Scott and I published in 2009 & 2010. His talk encourages designers to fully explore an engaging conceptual model before falling back on an established design pattern.


The Villains in Stephen Anderson’s talk on Emotional Engagement

And I started thinking, does my new book about mobile patterns have any value or am I unwittingly polluting designers creative minds?

After a glass of wine, here’s what I came up with:
UI patterns are a useful educational tool. Designers should be familiar with design patterns, just as they should be aware of other fundamental principles of design (psychology, typography, color, balance, proportion, etc…). If nothing else, patterns give us a shared vocabulary and rules to break.

UI patterns are also useful for developers and product owners who don’t have a dedicated designer to collaborate with. Patterns give them a better chance at creating a usable interface than if they randomly design something in a vacuum (or more likely, a small, stinky meeting room with a whiteboard and a half-dead dry-erase marker).

After another glass of wine I realized, I’ve never used a Pattern Library. I’ve made a couple for clients, I’ve browsed a few online, I own a two books on Pattern Libraries, but I don’t use them. And I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone here.

 

Pattern Galleries are a different story. What’s the difference? A Pattern Library is a an educational effort explaining the how, when, why. A Pattern Gallery is a bunch of pictures of good design that can be perused for inspiration.

 

At the risk of sounding immodest, I frequently refer to my own DesignGalleRIA when I’m working on complex Rich Internet Applications. Many interaction design challenges have already been solved and I can build upon these IX patterns to create an ‘intuitive’ experience. In fact, I’m a better designer and provide a better value to my clients by knowing what’s out there, and knowing when to leverage an existing solution or start from scratch. I’m pretty sure Mari Shelby and others started their Pattern Galleries for similar reasons.

If the number of subscribers on these sites are any indication, the popularity of Pattern Galleries is exploding. Even my brand new gallery and Flickr photostream is getting upwards of 1k+ unique visitors a day and the book isn’t even released yet.

UX practioners aren’t the only ones creating Pattern Galleries. I know of fashionistas, architects, interior designers, puppeteers, brand designers, and landscapers who create scrapbooks, physical and digital, for design inspiration.

What do good Pattern Galleries have in common?
1. Lots of pictures
2. Minimal text
3. Easy to flip through
4. Frequent updates

With that in mind, I’m updating my Pattern Gallery with better navigation and a bunch of new screenshots.

Please comment and share your own experiences with Pattern Libraries, have you ever really used them, did they help you solve your design challenge, do you use Galleries more often, if so, which ones?