In user interface design, a pattern is an expected, familiar mechanism put into place to solve a design problem.
Take, for example, the calendar.
Google Analytics presents a set of calendars that help users easily select a range of dates. It’s a common design pattern, one you’ve probably seen thousands of times – especially if you travel. Airlines love this mechanism for letting customers select departure and arrival dates when booking tickets.
But relying on popular design patterns can be counterproductive, argues Michael Boeke, a software designer at Braintree and a speaker at the 2014 edition of WebVisions Chicago. For the user, these so-called ‘antipatterns’ can be counterintuitive to the point of irritation.
Take, for example, the typical way navigation is re-rolled when a responsive website is viewed on a mobile platform. Many designers rebuild mobile navigation into a list accessible by what Michael and his colleagues at Braintree call ‘the hamburger.’ This particular burger, though, isn’t a risk to your heart, but could pose a danger to your thumb.
Michael explains that it’s standard to put important controls in the upper left portion of a screen, on desktop apps and websites. And it doesn’t much matter then, because users control these elements via a mouse. But on a mobile device, placing that nav button in the upper left requires quite a thumb stretch for the average right-handed user.
And in a world where 70-90 percent of people are right-handed, that’s not a good thing.
That’s an antipattern, and antipatterns have two qualifications, according to Michael: first, they must appear beneficial at first, but create unintended problems. Second, there is a better solution that is demonstrable and repeatable.
Here’s another, frustrating example that Michael points out:
Most people – at least most people who spend a lot of time at a keyboard – use their tab key to move from one form element to another. But as Michael noticed, this particular form automatically moves your cursor from one part of the phone number element to the other, even though habit forces us to hit the tab button. Before you know it, you’re typing in the wrong field without even noticing.
So who’s fault is it when antipatterns get included in UI design? And what’s the solution?
Find out at WebVisions Chicago, where Michael will explore the wide world of “UX Antipatterns.”
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