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  User Interface (UI) design patterns, or reusable solutions for common design problems, have become a standard point of reference for user interface designers. And for good reason: they lend well to the increased modularity of web design (due to the use of Content Management Systems), they reduce development time and cost, and they decrease a user’s learning curve, since they are easily recognizable and as a result, more usable. So what’s wrong with them? Nothing exactly, but it doesn’t mean that we should employ them without asking questions along the way.  At Primacy, we propose that before you default to a known UI pattern as a design solution, you should consider the following:Who are your users?Demographics, context, devices, connection speeds and more, all shape a user’s experience with your design. Additionally, each set of users has a unique set of problems, which ultimately inform the flow through which they will interact with your design.H&M ModalConsidering all of these variables, how do we ensure that a specific design pattern will work for such a varied group of users? Performing research and testing designs with your audience eliminates the risk of assuming a certain collection of patterns will work for your users. And yes, research and testing require time and money, but probably not as much time and money as would be needed if things go wrong because you chose a design pattern without considering your users’ backgrounds.What is the problem you’re solving?Many UI patterns have become so ubiquitous that we no longer know what problem they originally solved. Take the hamburger menu, which Norm Cox of the Xerox ‘Star' designed under an estimated 16 x 16 pixel constraint, with the thought that it would mimic the look of the resulting displayed menu list (source). So why then has the hamburger menu become the default option for responsive navigation? Sure, we need an icon or button that can reasonably fit on a mobile screen, but the standard icon size is around 40 x 40, much larger than what Norm Cox was working with. If you don’t have the problem of designing a 16 x 16 icon, why rely on the solution for it?Is there an opportunity to innovate?By attempting to solve design problems via a framework of analogies, we neglect the opportunity to innovate. The reliance on existing solutions can prevent a designer from acknowledging the uniqueness of a problem, and from ultimately addressing it with a creative solution. Much of the innovation in web design has come from constraints and ultimately problem-solving – Norm Cox’s hamburger menu is the perfect example.Apple SliderSo ask yourself, does the design problem at hand present a unique opportunity to innovate? Can you iterate upon the lightbox pattern to make it more accessible? Can you take a carousel one step further to make it more targeted? You may gain recognition with your very own pattern.How do they work with your content strategy?When using a UI pattern, consider not just the interaction, but the content that this pattern is meant to support across a website or mobile app. What types of content will use this pattern? How will this pattern be used for content across devices? More specifically, is there enough content to warrant the use of an accordion? Is the content worth the user’s effort of clicking to reveal more?Looking aheadUI patterns serve many purposes and often present valid solutions to common problems. They have also proven to be especially powerful in setting a standard across an organization’s digital ecosystem. Take for example, Goldman Sachs’s Web UI Toolkit or A List Apart’s Pattern Library. There’s even a tool, called Patternry, dedicated to building pattern libraries more easily and collaboratively.

Goldman Sachs WebUI Toolkit

Our point is not to discourage designers from using UI patterns, but to encourage the use of them responsibly. Use UI patterns in conjunction with other parts of the creative process, and never neglect the opportunity to innovate. As the web and the “Internet of Things” continue to evolve, new solutions will be required for what we can surely say will be a unique set of problems. It’s better to get into the practice of developing creative solutions now, before things get really interesting.