Why should I care about patterns?

Patterns are all around us. They help us understand and use almost everything we see around us. For instance, if you saw this (below) would you know what it’s for? Would you know how to use it?

Most people will recognize the label “Help” and determine it’s a button that can be pushed. It’s a button that should be pressed if someone needs help. Most people recognize the pushable button pattern as a skeuomorph, which maintains design cues from the original button pattern established well over 100 years ago. One of the first buttons was found on this flashlight.

When it was first introduced, the button was confusing to everyone who was used to the lever pattern associated with light switches. Users didn’t expect the result of light from the action push. Ultimately, the push-button has become one of our most used patterns in digital product design.

Today, digital products don’t need to rely on skeuomorphism to indicate a button is pushable. Digital natives have learned that buttons usually have labels and a background colour. Buttons no longer need to look pushable, they need to simply look different from standard text or images. Most digital products in 2017 use some form of flat/Swiss design, which looses many of the design cues salient to the original pattern.

The Norman Door

You may have heard of the Norman Door; a poorly designed door that confuses users. Doors rely on handle patterns to indicate whether the door should be pushed or pulled. Some poorly designed doors resort to explicit labels to tell the user how to use it.

Doors are a basic pattern we learn how to use when we’re very young. They’re essential to our societal lifestyle; we want privacy and security while maintaining accessibility. Everyone should know how to use a door. The reality is, doors confuse millions of people everyday because aesthetics were placed above usability. Understanding handle patterns could have saved designers from making Norman doors.

The $300 Million ‘Continue’ Button

You may have heard of this study the UIE did a while ago. They essentially replaced a login/register button pattern with a continue button.

Apparently a major retailer allowed online shoppers to add things to their cart, and hit them with a login/register button pattern before checkout. This was perceived as such a barrier, once it was changed out with a continue button, sales went up by $300 million over the year.

These stories are becoming more-and-more common. Mistakenly used design patterns confuse people and cause them to misuse products. This effect is magnified ten-fold for digital products; savvy users expect elegant, usable digital products. Users who aren’t savvy need elegant, usable digital products; savvy users may be able to fumble-through a hard-to-use product but those who aren’t savvy will simply abandon (fire) the product.

If you want to be a part of the Understanding Patterns initiative, you can begin by visiting us at www.understandingpatterns.com and follow-us here on medium.