Design patterns are among the most underrated tools in the world of interaction designers. And that’s not because they are difficult to apply, but mainly due to the fact that designer are stubborn. We want to come up with all the solutions ourselves. But why? If you use patterns you save time and money, and you are more sure that your product will be understood by it’s users. Fortunately there are still believers, and they even wrote a book for us.
In 2005 Jenifer Tidwell published a book called Designing Interfaces, which can be considered as being the mother of the title I’m currently reviewing. The book gave us a solid overview of the most common design patterns around. It served as a superb handbook for any user interface designer. But as we all know, the digital world evolves in a very rapid way… new technologies aris and new solutions and patterns must be developed. So it isn’t strange that Bill Scott and Theresa Neil decided to publish a book full of great web patterns. And that’s the book we’re going to review now: Designing Web Interfaces.
Contents of the book
While Designing Interfaces had a very ‘physical’ structure (chapters with headers, navigation, footers and forms), Designing Web Interfaces has a different approach. It uses principles to structure the different patterns. With this method the authors learn us the main principles that are (in their mind) important to design web interfaces. So let’s take a look at the different principles and content of the book:
Make It Direct
In this chapter it’s all about making it clear for users when they can change something on a page. How do you make a page visually appealing and still make it very clear what can and can’t be edited?
Chapters: in-page editing, drag and drop, direct selection
Keep It Leightweight
Websites are becoming more like software by the day. With this principle you learn to keep actions simple: provide sufficient feedback, but also keep it simple.
Chapters: contextual tools
Stay on the Page
Not every click and action should result in loading a new page. Sometimes you only want to refresh part of a page (like with e-mail on Gmail) or you don’t want secondary information to cause users to leave a page (so you use overlays). This principle and the chapters give you great tips when and how to do that.
Chapters: overlays, inlays, virtual pages, process flow
Provide an Invitation
With websites becoming more complex you need every space you can use to provide good contextual information and support. In this principle you learn how to help visitors to discover the possibilities on a site, via inviations. For me this is one of the more interesting new ways of learning people how to use your site, by giving them a live tour through your site/page.
Chapters: static invitations, dynamic invitations
In this chapter you get a series of patterns on how you can use transition to tell the right story, stay in a flow and get the correct attention.
Chapters: transitional patterns, purpose of transitions
You see it ever more often, getting suggestions in search boxes while you are typing. This, and other direct feedback, are becoming the standard. People expect nothing less from website than direct feedback. In two chapters the book shows us a series of lookup and feedback patterns that could help you fulfil many expectations.
Chapters: lookup patterns, feedback patterns
What I really liked about this book is the detailed, but interesting to read, way that the patterns are described… Instead of just showing us the best way to do it, the book manages to give good context. In some cases it shows different appliances of a certain pattern, describing the advantages and disadvantages in detail. This is really usable material for interaction designers, because it makes us aware of the necessary detail. A lot of designers will just design a page and describe the interaction in general, leaving it to the programmer to come up with the best solution. But it’s not just his responsibility, but (also) that of the interaction designer. We must understand how a user will respond, and patterns and facts (like: making something respond after dragging for 3 pixels makes something feel smoother than after 5+ pixels) help us do that.
So, in my opinion, every interaction designer should have a book (or online source) with design patterns within reach. It helps making decisions faster, and saves time for the real innovation.