Finding a Pattern Language for UI

Mobile Design Pattern Library by Theresa Neil is a useful if not essential addition to the library of anyone working in mobile application design today. Neil has systematically compiled a comprehensive means of describing interface elements and classifying between their current variations. She covers the most popular mobile OS’s providing a profusion of screen captures and successfully develops a language akin to Christopher Alexander’s work in architecture and design to identify the role and the way in which different choices interact as part of a larger system. The roughly 250 page volume is comprehensive and as many have already noted an excellent well of ideas for interface designers, not just in the mobile space, but more widely. As purely a mobile interface users rather than developer I have to admit a fascination with the art. I am using a Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone right now to contrast it with my iOS experience. I found no issues with iOS have been an eager proponent of its simplicity and ease of use. I acquired WebOS-based phones as well as Android all in the name of experimentation. I am currently quite fascinated/fond of the Metro UI and willing to give it a chance to impress. As a pure sidenote – and here I wish I used callouts on my blog – the wireframes in Neil’s book themselves bear a resemblance to the very simplistic approach of the Metro UI which I have a sense to why I find an immediate attraction: there’s little or no metaphor in the UI. Well, maybe not – my experimentation continues. Interface experience is hugely personal and the role of finding appropriate design through a holistic approach is greatly aided by this volume. It puts the pieces in a  larger context, concisely demonstrates the variances in implementation between platforms and does so with appropriate nod to the art of user experience of the printed or digital eBook.

The organisation of the volume is logically divided into chapters on:

  • Navigation
  • Forms
  • Tables & Lists
  • Search, Sort & Filter
  • Tools
  • Charts
  • Invitations
  • Feedback & Affordance (the buzz word as of late)
  • Help; and
  • the very clever – Anti-Patterns

These cover the bulk of interface elements from a process standpoint – and that is a serious element of the book – it steps away from isolated elements and identifies them as existing within a larger context. Most UX/UI designers today, especially within the mobile space can immerse themselves in isolated design guides prepared by OS manufacturers to ensure adherence or to express a vision. Conversely they can experiment deeply with implemented designs looking for successes and failures in others work. This book offers a third approach and I think a worthy one of attempting to think more broadly about an overall strategy and in this finds a place in the Neilsen school of thought.

Through screen captures, wireframes and brief discussions of the  Neil includes a chapter of failures to appreciate UX in design and to my praise includes the ABC news app which I have to admit baffled me as well. The spinning globe out of any context with repeating stories. The demonstration of some geek in a back room playing with a new three dimensional algorithm with little or no sense of how it might translate into actual use. Over all, the book is a fine reference manual and a surprisingly good read through. It is of especial use to UI developers, but is even of interest to any web developer looking for design inspiration.

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