Learn About UX Design Patterns: Add Value to Your Projects
What is a UX design pattern? How important are patterns for a design? Learn how to make your designs useful and efficient, with a remarkable experience.
UI/UX design is a systematic process – one that demands critical thinking, a user-centered approach, and strategic decision making. To individuals not associated with the design industry, the entire practice of prototyping, wireframing, iterating the designs, and choosing the best one, in the end, might seem a little haphazard. This, however, is far from reality. All design processes, may it be for products, services, mobile applications, or websites have something in common. Given that all design projects start with the needs of the users and end with their feedback, then to be improved further, it is safe to assume that the underlying considerations in these projects are close, if not exactly the same.
Additionally, it is neither sustainable nor possible for a designer to start every project from scratch. There are certain rules, standards, best practices, and (in some cases) preferences of designers that can be reused in multiple projects. The practices, however, are not to be replicated but serve only as fundamental guidelines, steering the design process. These well-established practices are referred to as UX design patterns. As in any other UX design principle, the design patterns and practices have a lot of room for innovation, never hurting the creativity of a designer.
Developing an understanding of UX design patterns can be extremely helpful for a designer. For beginners as well as professionals, the entire process of UX design becomes less time-consuming and more fruitful if the design patterns are exploited well. It is one reason that leading UX design agencies have their own set of pattern libraries, recommending their usage in almost all projects. In this article, we explain the basic concepts related to UX design principles along with some guidelines to implement them in your future projects. The article concludes with some resources for UX design pattern libraries and some suggestions for beginners.
Understanding UX Design Patterns
UX design patterns can ensure uniformity in products and services without compromising the usability of a design. The users might not be able to identify and distinguish between different patterns but they do expect the designs to be intuitive and familiar, thus having an understandable flow. These expectations become the reason that designers use recurring components, called UX design patterns, to solve common problems and to create intuitive designs.
Two terms are of significance in the above definition: common problems and intuitive designs. When working on the design of a product or service, UI/UX professionals often come across problems that they’ve encountered before, such as sign-in or payment options. These recurring problems can then be resolved with the help of reusable solutions. The solutions applied, however, must ensure that the designs are both intuitive and familiar, thus making the journey of users easy and fruitful. In other words, UX design patterns are the solutions applied to recurring design problems so as to make the design process efficient and the designs more useful.
Categories of UX design patterns
There is no strict categorization of UX design patterns. One reason for this is that the discipline of UI/UX design is still quite fresh and the digital world is constantly changing. Another important reason for this loose categorization is that any rigidity might result in hindering creativity, and creativity is a cornerstone of design. However, based on the nature of interaction, usefulness, and utility in a design, UX design patterns can be classified into a few broad categories.
Data input and output
These are one of the most frequently used features in mobile applications, websites, and online forms. The patterns used where the users are asked to enter some information – may it be a text input or selection from a dropdown menu – fall under this category. One of the important aspects of this category is the availability of some sort of feedback. UI/UX designers need to make sure that whenever users enter some data, it gets acknowledged. This can be in a variety of ways. Consider one simple example.
When there is no text (URL or search query) written in the address bar of the iOS version of Safari, the “Go” button on the bottom-right corner is faded out. The moment you add some text in the address bar, the button becomes active, along with suggested search queries, giving you instant feedback that your data input has resulted in some output.
Navigation is one of the essential features for all websites, both on the desktop and mobile versions. Familiar and seamless navigation patterns not only help in scrolling on a webpage but also make it easy to locate useful information. UI/UX designers, when drawing out navigation patterns, ensure that the users do not get confused or lost, always having an exit strategy.
Navigation patterns include up and down scrolling, the presence of a navigation menu and bar, and even the little “Back To Top” button found on the mobile version of many websites. These patterns are often greatly influenced by the size or resolution of a screen being used to interact with the design. It is, therefore, highly recommended to make the designs responsive on all types of devices by careful optimization.
The ideas, research, and skills of a UI/UX designer in this domain overlap with the concepts of information architecture. The patterns falling in this category are aimed at improving the journey of the users by making information accessible and findable.
Content structuring is the way information is presented on a website or mobile application. Designers use a number of techniques to ensure that the end-users achieve their goals in little time and with minimum effort.
An important task of any design is to highlight important information, both visual and textual, without explicitly saying so. A good design always follows a hierarchical pattern. UI/UX designers use certain tactics, such as the use of large font size, prominent colors, and placement of visual elements to organize and present information in a hierarchical manner. A hierarchical design streamlines the design process and also allows the users to focus on the content that demands more attention.
With the increased use of social media, both for promoting a business and disseminating information, it is imperative that all designs give due consideration to these platforms. It is for this reason that many websites – particularly the ones with press releases, news, and blog articles – provide icons to share information on social media channels. Similarly, many businesses create a strong social media presence and provide links to their own pages or channels on these platforms.
Designers, in most cases, follow a certain pattern when meeting either of the aforementioned needs. A “Share” button at the top, or bottom, of an article, is one example of the former. Similarly, providing links to social media platforms, using their respective icons, in the footer of a website is an example of the latter.
Common UX design patterns
There are numerous patterns that UI/UX designers seek help from, often utilizing them in their projects. Some of the most common UX design patterns are listed below.
- Distinguished CTAs: When presenting an action item, such as inviting a click on a button, make sure that you make the element stand out by using different colors or styles.
- Hover effects: Buttons, text, and elements change form on hover, helping the users navigate, focus on important information, and understand the content in a better way.
- Progress bar: When filling an online form or completing a sequential task, the users want to know how much progress they have made and how many steps are left in the process. It is always a good idea to provide this information readily.
- Flexible data entry: Allowing users to enter information (such as an address, phone number, etc.) in different formats can save them from a lot of frustration.
- Single click registration: If you want the users to sign up for your newsletter or to subscribe to emails, do not make them fill long forms.
There are numerous other patterns that designers use and tweak based on the needs of a project. In some cases, designers even have a certain set of comfort patterns that he/she is comfortable with. Nevertheless, the importance of these patterns cannot be overstated.
The Value of UX Design Patterns
When working on design projects, UX designers often run into similar problems. Some of the common needs of a website or a mobile application, for instance, may include providing a sign-in option, creating forms, and linking to social media accounts. It is natural for a designer to look for the best way to present this information and provide intuitive solutions so that the users do not feel alienated or overwhelmed when interacting with a design, irrespective of its newness. This is why UX design patterns hold a special place in any project.
UX design patterns also serve as a mode of communication and knowledge sharing between designers. Experienced UI/UX designers have, indeed, encountered a lot of design problems, finding solutions to them, and taking note of best practices. With a number of effective and useful design patterns and best practices, beginners in the field can seek a lot of help, adding value to their work without having to reinvent the wheel. UX design patterns, therefore, serve as a great tool, both in UX research and practical application of the concepts.
Ignoring patterns is not a good idea
It is always advisable to stick to certain UX design principles. Using the universal best practices not only helps the designers by saving their time and effort but also makes the journey of users familiar. The visitors of a website, for example, expect certain features to be in similar positions. For example, it is common for websites to have a menu at the top with the name of the organization and links to main pages. If such a menu is not found on a website, it might appear unique but, in fact, it will only result in frustrating the users. Similarly, a standard business card is expected to have the name of the individual, his/her designation, name of the organization, and some contact information. If a business card did not provide any of these essential bits of information, the audience would not have a familiar experience, thus resulting in confusion.
UX design patterns should not be ignored because of the following main reasons.
- Usability and usefulness: All designers have one interest in common: the welfare of users. UX design patterns make it easier for the designers to focus on the needs of users by setting some ground rules of usability, thus adding value to the design of a product or service.
- Holistic experience: All design projects focus on the entire experience of users and not just one instance. The patterns adopted by leading designers take this into consideration, making sure that the experience of users is not hollow or incomplete. UX design principles, therefore, complement design principles in this regard.
- Familiar experience: Users, when interacting with a new product or service, are always looking for a familiar experience. Though innovation is appreciated, it must not demand that the users unlearn everything and start anew. These patterns make sure that the users have to make a minimum effort while interacting with any design.
- Ease of use: Increases familiarity, along with better usability, makes a product or service easy to use. A designer, by implementing accepted best practices, saves the time and effort of users, helping them accomplish their goals in a better way.
- Room for innovation: With UX design patterns, there is always room for innovation. UI/UX designers, depending on their target audience and the nature of a project, can alter the patterns, if needed. It must, however, be noted that the end goal is always to aid the user’s journey.
Despite all the standards and best practices, it is important to note that the existence and application of UX design patterns do not make the overall practice dull or boring. There is always room for creativity in the design industry. These patterns, in fact, make it easier for designers to move away from mundane design activities, think out of the box and add value to the field, thus making the field more exciting.
UX Design Principles and Design Patterns
In the UI/UX design industry, there are certain principles – along with design patterns and best practices – that almost all designers stick to. These principles are a result of tried and tested methods and quality research in the field, giving rise to standard practices. All design projects, in addition to their specific requirements and limitations, need the UX design principles for their success.
There is a significant overlap between the use of UX design principles and the application of design patterns in any project. This should not come as a surprise, since the underlying principle of all design projects is the comfort of users and the design patterns aim to bring efficiency to the process, promising a better user experience. Some of the most important principles, and the way design patterns align with them, are discussed below.
- Empathy: One of the fundamental principles in UX design is to understand the needs of the users and develop a connection with their pain points. UX design patterns really help in creating this connection by giving new designers a way to learn from the experiences of others and also to make the end result familiar and useful for the audience.
- Style and typography: The selection of style and typography plays a key role in the usability of a design. When it comes to the application of UX design patterns, textual hierarchy and readable font cannot be ignored. Such patterns add value to the overall design, making the lives of users easier.
- Research: UI/UX designers are expected to conduct quality research before, during, and after their projects. The existence and flexibility of design patterns give a better direction to this research.
- Creativity: To give the users a better experience and to add value to their interaction, it is important for designers to be creative. The application of UX design patterns paves the way for innovation and creativity by saving time on tried and tested methods, thus creating new possibilities.
- Accessibility: Making the products and services accessible to everyone is extremely important for designers. UX design principles make designs more accessible by ensuring that all the best practices are followed and that no user, no matter how differently abled, is left behind.
Based on the discussion so far, we can confidently say that it is necessary for a UI/UX designer to have at least some understanding of design patterns. It is also important to know how to utilize them in the best way possible. Although there is no set procedure to put these patterns to practice and designers use them as per the demands of the project, some steps can be followed to keep the entire design process in check.
Applying UX design patterns
As mentioned above, applying UX design patterns in the design of any product or service is not a method set in stone. However, as a designer, you can follow certain steps to make sure that you can make the most out of these remarkable resources. These steps are listed and described below.
Step 1: Identify and define the design problem
When faced with a design problem, the first thing that a designer needs to do is to identify the nature of the problem. This step is extremely important because it greatly influences the approach taken to solve the problem and come up with a design that is both useful and usable. The first step, therefore, is to identify a design problem, highlight which concepts and aspects of a design it relates to, and define the problem in an easily understandable manner.
Step 2: Research for similar problems and solutions
Once a design problem is identified, the next step is to look for past occurrences of the same, or similar, problems. This is where a designer gets to wear the researcher’s hat and carefully goes through the literature available in the field. It is quite possible that other designers have faced similar issues in the past, have discussed their approach and outcomes, and have set some guidelines for all seekers. This step can save time as well as add to the knowledge of the designer trying to solve a unique problem.
Step 3: Analyze the existing solutions
If people have encountered a problem before, there is a chance that someone has also found a solution. If the problem still remains unsolved, it is still important to look at the techniques followed by designers in the past so as to understand the mistakes they made. This will help the designer in getting an idea about the wrong approaches and the things to be careful about. A thorough analysis of existing, or attempted, solutions can help in devising a better strategy.
Step 4: Identify the common design patterns
An extension of the analysis conducted in Step 3 will reveal the commonalities between the attempted solutions and the varying approaches adopted by designers. This is the step where a UI/UX designer starts identifying design patterns. Even if no feasible solution has been found yet, it is essential to note the type of patterns that have worked and the ones that haven’t. The categories of UX design patterns discussed above can be of help in this regard.
Step 5: Pick the patterns for your problem
In this last step, the designer picks and chooses the patterns that can work well for his/her problem. It must be noted that confining to already attempted solutions is not recommended here. There are numerous resources (discussed in the next section) to look for and apply UX design patterns. Exploring such options can help in coming up with a unique and feasible solution.
UX Design Pattern Libraries
UX design pattern libraries are rich resources of solutions and best practices that designers can use for their projects. These libraries serve as a database of UX design patterns where researchers and practitioners can seek inspiration and help from. UX design pattern libraries have a great value in the field of design, particularly in the digital world, as these not only ensure uniformity in user experience but also play the role of a knowledge base for all aspiring and professional designers. Many leading organizations maintain their own libraries, creating a sort of style guide for their own designs.
For beginners in the field and students of UI/UX design, some highly credible and unique sources are listed below.
- Pttrns is one of the largest libraries that allows you to sort UX design patterns based on years and a wide range of categories.
- UI Patterns includes many examples of implementing a single design solution, ensuring that design principles are taken care of.
- Lovely UI is a resource that includes real-world examples and applications of UX design patterns and is constantly updated.
- UX Archive focuses mostly on mobile design, particularly iOS devices, with a neat collection of creative solutions.
- Little Big Details ranks designs based on the response from users (number of likes and comments), thus giving insights and feedback from other designers as well.
- Dark Patterns is, arguably, one of the most creative collections of design patterns, along with some interesting suggestions on which patterns to avoid.
There are many other libraries in the market that can be explored to find the best design patterns out there. Additionally, looking at the websites of leading UI/UX agencies and case studies conducted by leading designers can give an excellent insight into the widely accepted and implemented solutions, giving the design projects a solid foundation.
The concept of UX design patterns is one that demands great attention from anyone who is interested in the field of design. Once the concept and its basis are completely understood, a designer can then focus on the implementation of these patterns in his/her projects. One should never underestimate the depth and power of design patterns. These patterns have a lot of room for advancement, so a designer should never shy away from creativity. It must also be noted that the best practices can vary based on the platform a product is being designed for or the nature of the intended audience. Therefore, just like in any other design concept, it is not a good idea to identify a rule and stick to it forever. A good designer is one who is always open to new ideas and knows how to tweak a concept when needed.