Designing Interfaces

Tidwell, J. (2006). Designing Interfaces. Cambridge, MA: O'Reilly.

In essence, patterns are structural and behavioral features that improve the "habitability" of something — a user interface, a Web site, an object-oriented program, or even a building. They make things more usable, easier to understand, or more beautiful; they make tools more ready-to-hand. In this work, patterns are described literally as solutions to design problems, because part of their value lies in the way they resolve tensions in various design contexts. For instance, a UI designer who needs to pack a lot of stuff into a too-small space can use a Card Stack. All that remains to the designer is to work on the information architecture — how to split up the content into pieces, what to name them, etc. — and what exactly the Card Stack will look like when it's done. Tabs? A left-hand-side list or tree? That's up to the designer's judgement.

Some very complete sets of patterns make up a "pattern language." These are a bit like visual languages, in that they cover the entire vocabulary of elements used in a design (though pattern languages are more abstract and behavioral; visual languages talk about shapes, colors, fonts, etc.). This set isn't nearly so complete, and it contains techniques that don't quite qualify as patterns. However, it is concise enough to be manageable and useful.

Tidwell provides a foundation on patterns. As designers, we need to consider the impact that patterns have in our information design and overall learning platforms. This is a key compnent that should be considered not only in terms of interaction and inforation design, but in the overall infomration atrchitecture of the learning platform. So what pattern can be used to represent actions that an end user must take? What pattern can be used to illustrte important details about an item? In our Museum Immersion project, we leveraged the use of Icons and created a pattern language to describe exploratory actions that the end users can take to learn, from differnt points of view, about a museum artifact.

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