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Foreword

Foreword

Ever since Christopher Alexander wrote his seminal A Pattern Language, many have spoken about the need to extend his idea for identifying and illuminating patterns of successful architectural experiences into other design realms. To date, few attempts have borne any fruit, but in this book, Douglas van Duyne, James Landay, and Jason Hong have succeeded in describing patterns in the online world in a way that fulfills both the intent and promise of Christopher Alexander's original book. These authors have done an excellent job of analyzing models and de scribing them in detail. And in translating Alexander's approach into this new medium, they prove that even after 25 years, it is still valid. They have done a thorough job of discovery, synthesis, and presentation that is a credit to Alexander's approach and standard.

In my experience with interactive media, dating well before the Web's rise, designers, engineers, clients, and marketers have always been looking for ways of communicating new functionality to customers, participants, members, and other system users. Most new functions require new conventions, and these are often confusing at worst, unfamiliar at best, and very often unsettling. It takes time for conventions to appear. For example, the beveled button, now a style that reminds us of interactive or digital design from the late 1980s, was an early convention that helped people differentiate the objects on a screen that performed actions from those that were merely labels, titles, decorations, or other content. The underlying need being addressed here is helping people better identify controls, available actions, and interactive flow. There will always be needs for new functions and the need to make the interaction of those new functions clear to people. Therefore, new conventions (and eventually standards) will always be evolving.

I have seen these design problems and solutions develop for the last 14 years. From early screen designs for kiosks and presentations to CD-ROMs, online services, and the Web, each medium has offered new opportunities and presented designers with new problems. Indeed, the interfaces for computers themselves (such as applications and operating systems), distinct devices (such as PDAs, mobile phones, and stereo equipment), and even the print medium are still evolving ecosystems of communication—some successful, many not. You can see design conventions at work on the displays of modern copiers as well as tax forms and voting ballots. Our visual language, from which patterns emerge, is not relegated to one medium but is built from all media with which we interact.

Although the Web is still a new medium—barely ten years old—through mostly trial and error some standards have arisen that establish conventions of organization and communication. Not all of these have been ideal, of course, but most conventions have, at least, contributed to the development of a common language for people to understand when using a Web site. This book helps illuminate that language, describing how to use it to maximum effect.

For example, the placement of corporate or Web site branding in the upper left corner is a reaction to the fact that this is really the only area of the page that one can consistently expect to be visible in all conditions (screen sizes and resolutions, page sizes and locations, type sizes and styles, and so on). This standard placement has become one of the most common practices on the Web, and it is described in this book as only one of many such conventions. Although this is a simple example, other ex amples governing more sophisticated interactions, such as those for commerce or communication, offer equally important insights into successful and important conventions that designers and engineers can potentially follow.

Most design processes seek to distill the information or data to be presented and arrange it on the page or screen as a designer sees fit, given the available resources and design preferences. How the pages of a Web site fit together, and how this organization (or lack thereof) is represented, is a different process entirely, but one also governed mostly by personal design preferences. This book introduces a new process to consider that summarizes an amalgam of successful solutions and distills them into some basic models to follow. This approach represents a synthesis of the best current thinking on the Web and an approach that closely aligns with most users' experiences and expectations. To be sure, this is not the only way to design, and it may not be the best approach in every case. However, it represents a new way to design Web sites that should not be ignored.

This isn't to say that design is dead or that every model must be followed exactly. The models here are great guidelines that give designers an option to start with a predefined, successful framework that they can modify at will to solve their particular design constraints. Whereas many designers may view this as a way of limiting design freedom, others will see it as a way of reaching better solutions faster and finding new, higher levels on which to concentrate their drive to innovate.

By no means should this book be seen as a complete document, because the language of online communication is still evolving, but it is the best record to date of the predominant vocabulary and grammar of this language. There are still more interactions to be developed and online experiences to be defined. No doubt, future editions will evolve along with this language.

Nathan Shedroff
Author of Experience Design and cofounder of vivid studios
January 19, 2002
United Flight 60, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean between Honolulu and San Francisco

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