Pattern-Based Thinking in Design Systems

In the world of digital production operations, the concept of pattern-based thinking refers to a systematic approach that focuses on identifying and leveraging recurrent design and code patterns to create efficient and consistent user experiences. Pattern-based thinking, often reflected in an investment in design systems, reshapes the landscape of digital product design and development, offering a flexible yet consistent approach that can be applied across various platforms, ecosystems, and industries.

Design patterns solve common problems

To grasp the concept of pattern-based thinking, it is crucial first to understand the broader idea of design patterns. Design patterns are proven solutions to common or recurring problems that have been identified and documented over time. These patterns act as reusable templates, guiding designers and engineers in addressing specific user needs and streamlining the digital production process.

This is not a concept unique to UI design - it's a basic principle of problem solving by learning from others who have faced the same or similar issues. After all, design is fundamentally about solving problems! Just as in architecture, where repeated elements like doors or windows make up the structure of a building, design patterns form the building blocks of user interfaces.

A Foundation in Accessibility

Pattern-based thinking goes hand in hand with prioritizing accessibility. Conducting upfront research and ensuring that components meet accessibility standards is crucial to the digital production process. By providing thorough documentation and guidelines, design systems empower implementing teams to create accessible interfaces and comply with best practices. This approach ensures that accessibility is ingrained in the design process from the start.

A Solution for Consistent, Intuitive and Efficient Experiences

Consistency is a key aspect of pattern-based thinking. By adhering to established patterns, designers can create familiarity for users, leading to more intuitive and efficient experiences. Messaging, alerts, validation, and notification patterns are examples of how consistency can enhance user interactions. However, finding the right terminology and naming conventions can present a significant challenge, especially when working across diverse and distributed functional teams. Common pitfalls that teams experience in terminology include:

  • Diverse Background and Experiences: In teams with various professional backgrounds, industries or cultural contexts, there are natural variations in how individuals understand and use language. What seems evident to one team member might be unfamiliar or confusing to another.
  • Domain-Specific Language: Different departments or fields have their own terminologies.For example, what designers call a 'component' could easily be called a module or element by development teams.
  • Overcoming Legacy Habits: Entrenched habits can hinder introducing or enforcing new terminology in many organizations. People often resist change, especially if it involves learning a new set of terms or adapting workflows.

It is crucial to balance providing clear guidance and allowing flexibility to adapt to future patterns.

Uncharted exploration into pattern-based thinking can lead to product breakthroughs

Prevalent challenges in web design, such as the checkout or login process, have established E-Commerce patterns that are applied universally across modern development. However, other patterns, such as catalog, which involves the organization of multiple products, are relatively unexplored. Embedded pattern-based thinking urges teams and organizations to push boundaries with pattern identification, filling gaps within product ecosystems and improving user experiences.

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