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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