To Use or Not to Use Web Design Patterns?

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When is it okay to break the unofficial rules of web design patterns? In other words, when is it acceptable to go outside the lines of what you know buttons are supposed to look like, how forms are supposed to appear, etc.? There are scores of award-winning websites in which buttons don’t look like buttons and forms don’t look like forms…and then, there are award-winning websites in which everything looks exactly the way it’s supposed to.

There are benefits of design patterns as they apply to the web. The two most obvious are:

Patterns save web designers time. Even when you’re starting from scratch, you’re never really starting from scratch when you’re using a pattern. And like its twin brother the template, a pattern has characteristics that can be used to solve other design problems when they arise (and they always arise). Like anything in life, seeing how something was done before makes it easier to do when you try it yourself.

Patterns make the Web easier to use. As design patterns become more common, users get used to how those patterns work – and eventually, they subconsciously come to expect those same design patterns on every website. Here’s a high-level explanation in the most simplistic form: When patterns reach high adoption rates (like critical mass), they turn into models about how a system should work. The patterns a web design professional uses make a difference down the road.

So the next time you contemplate whether to use a pattern for your next website design, consider those truths. There’s no right or wrong here, but seeing patterns from this perspective may help alleviate any reservations you have about “selling out” by using them. On the other hand, not using them is okay too. Just look at any great website; it may have been designed with a pattern, or it may not.


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