Design Patterns: A Recipe for Success

Fiona McAndrew

UX Designer

On the 23rd of November 2015, the Dublin chapter of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) held an event called Defuse, which Graphic Mint sponsored. In addition to co-organising the event, I also took part as a speaker.


The goal of speaking at Defuse is to help ignite conversation about interaction design by delivering a 5-minute talk on a design related topic. The audience, upwards of 500, was a mix of students to seasoned design professionals with a sprinkling of developers, entrepreneurs and other curious folk.

The topic for my talk was design patterns, which I chose because although it may seem like a dry topic, they lay the foundation for good design to be built upon. As a result, they are immensely important, fundamental even. I used the example of a poorly designed cookbook to illustrate this point and to highlight the fact that adopting a design pattern is as old as design itself.

I wanted to revisit this topic in 2016 because adopting design patterns brings a level of efficiency to our design practice, and isn’t being more efficient part of every business’ New Year’s goals, after all?

Let’s Talk Design Patterns

Design patterns are reusable solutions to common problems. A simple example of a design pattern would be the layout, pattern and interactions involved in an online form. The design problem is to allow the user to enter data with the least amount of effort. The design solution is to utilise a widely adopted form, which is designed around best design practices.

New design patterns are often adopted as standard by industry, as these have the potential to speed up design production and improve efficiency. This all sounds great, right? There has been debate among designers however, about the loss of creativity and uniqueness in our visual landscape as a result, and rightly so. Have you noticed that many things on the internet looks relatively the same these days?

French Architecture websitePhotography website design

Design Patterns are Not New

It is important to note at the same time that design patterns are not new. As long as design has been a profession we have been using them. We designers are very good at re-appropriating items from the past and use them as a platform to do more great work for the future.

I do agree with many designers who say that mass adoption of design patterns will result in a bland and unremarkable visual landscape. The purpose of my talk was to urge designers, particular junior designers, to reconsider design patterns as a tool for good. Since I am an avid cook, I talked out my frustrations with a “design pattern-less” cookbook as my case study called “Eat.”

Positive Patterns

What I discovered from mulling over design patterns so much lately was that if you look hard enough, you will find wonderful examples of design patterns in useful and beautiful products.

I recently came across the wonderful cookbook ‘Plenty More‘. The elegant and modern Scandinavian bold graphic with cheerful colouring and varnish overlay drew me to it, while the well-designed layout and proper taxonomy kept me reading.

In this way, powerful design can be achieved in everything from a cookbook to a complex digital product, by using design patterns simply and effectively.

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