Recap: Chicago IxDA's Pattern Libraryconversation

16 Oct 2007 - 1:32pm
6 years ago
12 replies
227 reads
Mark Schraad
2006

I asked the same question in the late nineties of some architect friends. My office was located on the same block as the AIA and there were several firms within a few hundred feet. What they told me was that the idea has ever been widely accepted as optimal outside of the academic world. In fact it was met with ridacule when the book was first published. One of them referred to it as cookie cutter architecture. Certainly not a gauge on the entire profession... but it is what I was told.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2007, at 02:22PM, "David Malouf" <dave at ixda.org> wrote:
>Since I'm about to give a talk on this topic on Friday, it has been
>on my mind a lot. I saw Chris' post on facebook questioning the very
>value of Patterns themselves and I often question them too.
>
>Question: Has anyone spoken to people in the Architecture world and
>about their thoughts on Patterns. We seem to admire Alexander, but do
>they? And how are they using them if at all?
>
>I guess when it doubt go back to the source, no?
>
>I do know there are architects in this community maybe they can
>enlighten us a bit.
>
>-- dave
>
>
>. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
>Posted from the new ixda.org
>http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=21539
>
>
>________________________________________________________________
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Comments

16 Oct 2007 - 2:02pm
James Melzer
2004

Architects are loosing ground against Builders as the primary
designers of most buildings. Office buildings and schools and
industrial parks are all, literally, cookie cutter architecture. There
are either industry standards or government regulations for all sorts
of aspects of the built environment (at least in the US), so an
experienced construction firm can design and build perfectly
serviceable office buildings without Architects. (Builders have
architects on staff, of course, but not "Architects," if you get my
meaning.) That is the power of patterns. Patterns are not about
building fancy art museums that are unique but expensive. You need
Architects for that. Patterns are about building tens of thousands of
cookie cutter office buildings that are all functionally identical.

So... if you are building a fancy or unique or ephemeral web product
(movie website?) then patterns may be wasted on you. But if you are
building hundreds of similar functions in a large scale web product
(banking website?) then patterns seem like a good idea.

~ James

On 10/16/07, Mark Schraad <mschraad at mac.com> wrote:
> I asked the same question in the late nineties of some architect friends. My office was located on the same block as the AIA and there were several firms within a few hundred feet. What they told me was that the idea has ever been widely accepted as optimal outside of the academic world. In fact it was met with ridacule when the book was first published. One of them referred to it as cookie cutter architecture. Certainly not a gauge on the entire profession... but it is what I was told.
>
>
>
>
> On Tuesday, October 16, 2007, at 02:22PM, "David Malouf" <dave at ixda.org> wrote:
> >Since I'm about to give a talk on this topic on Friday, it has been
> >on my mind a lot. I saw Chris' post on facebook questioning the very
> >value of Patterns themselves and I often question them too.
> >
> >Question: Has anyone spoken to people in the Architecture world and
> >about their thoughts on Patterns. We seem to admire Alexander, but do
> >they? And how are they using them if at all?
> >
> >I guess when it doubt go back to the source, no?
> >
> >I do know there are architects in this community maybe they can
> >enlighten us a bit.
> >
> >-- dave
> >
> >
> >. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> >Posted from the new ixda.org
> >http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss?post=21539
> >
> >
> >________________________________________________________________
> >Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> >To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> >Unsubscribe ................ http://gamma.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> >List Guidelines ............ http://gamma.ixda.org/guidelines
> >List Help .................. http://gamma.ixda.org/help
> >
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://gamma.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://gamma.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://gamma.ixda.org/help
>

--
James Melzer
http://www.jamesmelzer.com
http://del.icio.us/jamesmelzer

16 Oct 2007 - 2:02pm
Mark Schraad
2006

One of (if not the) the first outside of engineering to suggest and implement a systems approach to design and visual asthetics.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2007, at 02:44PM, "Christian Crumlish" <xian at pobox.com> wrote:

>When you say "we seem to admire Alexander" what does that mean
>exactly? Who are we are what does it mean to "seem to admire" someone?

16 Oct 2007 - 2:02pm
Cindy Blue
2006

Mark said "What they told me was that the idea has ever been widely accepted as optimal outside of the academic world. In fact it was met with ridacule when the book was first published. One of them referred to it as cookie cutter architecture. Certainly not a gauge on the entire profession... but it is what I was told."

Surely there are patterns for things like how many square feet to allocate for a bathroom stall, right?

Cindy

16 Oct 2007 - 2:11pm
Dante Murphy
2006

That would be a standard, not a pattern.

This is an important distinction because a standard represents a
requirement, while a pattern represents a design element.

Dante Murphy | Director of Information Architecture | D I G I T A S H E
A L T H
229 South 18th Street, 2nd Floor | Rittenhouse Square | Philadelphia, PA
19103
Email: dmurphy at digitashealth.com | www.digitashealth.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Cindy Blue

Surely there are patterns for things like how many square feet to
allocate for a bathroom stall, right?

16 Oct 2007 - 2:17pm
Cindy Blue
2006

Semantics aside, my point was simply that even within large, beautiful structures there will always be some elements that do not need to be redesigned everytime.

________________________________

From: Dante Murphy [mailto:dmurphy at digitashealth.com]
Sent: Tue 10/16/2007 3:11 PM
To: Cindy Blue; Mark Schraad; David Malouf
Cc: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: RE: [IxDA Discuss] Recap: Chicago IxDA's Pattern Libraryconversation

That would be a standard, not a pattern.

This is an important distinction because a standard represents a
requirement, while a pattern represents a design element.

Dante Murphy | Director of Information Architecture | D I G I T A S H E
A L T H
229 South 18th Street, 2nd Floor | Rittenhouse Square | Philadelphia, PA
19103
Email: dmurphy at digitashealth.com | www.digitashealth.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Cindy Blue

Surely there are patterns for things like how many square feet to
allocate for a bathroom stall, right?

16 Oct 2007 - 2:29pm
Dave Malouf
2005

To cindy's point, patterns usually don't involve the aesthetic presentation,
which is very open.
for example one might call a Cathedral ceiling in order to create a hollowed
feeling a pattern, but there are an infinite number of ways to create that
Cathedral ceiling.

At the heart of Alexander's work is that Patterns ARE. They are primarily a
description of what already exists, but then through conversion of being
described as a pattern is canonized. They are not rules for what you have to
do, but rather suggestions for how previously similar "problems" have been
solved "with success".

Patterns further can be innovated, they can be nested and scaled.

To answer Christian. I "believe" in patterns, but am uncertain to how to
best make them work in a living real workspace given my experience. I fall
between the line academic who loves "pattern recognition" and a "gotta get
it done" person.

As for the facebook reference, you are the "Chris" (sorry about that) I was
alluding to in your status message where you said you wished you were in
Chicago because you were wondering about whether or not it all is worth it.

-- dave

On 10/16/07, Cindy Blue <cblue at navigationarts.com> wrote:
>
> Semantics aside, my point was simply that even within large, beautiful
> structures there will always be some elements that do not need to be
> redesigned everytime.
>
>
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Dante Murphy [mailto:dmurphy at digitashealth.com]
> *Sent:* Tue 10/16/2007 3:11 PM
> *To:* Cindy Blue; Mark Schraad; David Malouf
> *Cc:* discuss at ixda.org
> *Subject:* RE: [IxDA Discuss] Recap: Chicago IxDA's Pattern
> Libraryconversation
>
> That would be a standard, not a pattern.
>
> This is an important distinction because a standard represents a
> requirement, while a pattern represents a design element.
>
> Dante Murphy | Director of Information Architecture | D I G I T A S H E
> A L T H
> 229 South 18th Street, 2nd Floor | Rittenhouse Square | Philadelphia, PA
> 19103
> Email: dmurphy at digitashealth.com | www.digitashealth.com
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com<discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com>]
> On Behalf Of
> Cindy Blue
>
>
> Surely there are patterns for things like how many square feet to
> allocate for a bathroom stall, right?
>
>

--
David Malouf
http://synapticburn.com/
http://ixda.org/
http://motorola.com/

16 Oct 2007 - 2:43pm
Christian Crumlish
2006

On 10/16/07, David Malouf <dave at ixda.org> wrote:
>
> To answer Christian. I "believe" in patterns, but am uncertain to how to
> best make them work in a living real workspace given my experience. I fall
> between the line academic who loves "pattern recognition" and a "gotta get
> it done" person.
>

That's an excellent point. I find myself drawn to the elegance of
patterns as an abstract, academic (almost) ideal, but in my day job we
deal with patterns as a pragmatic documentation method, and it's far
from theoretical.

> As for the facebook reference, you are the "Chris" (sorry about that) I was
> alluding to in your status message where you said you wished you were in
> Chicago because you were wondering about whether or not it all is worth it.

Ah, d'oh! Yeah, sorry I don't really answer to Chris, but it doesn't
offend me or anything... I did post that blog entry with the title "Do
pattern libraries really work?" not so much because I doubt they do
but because that seemed to be one of the questions that has to be
asked.

--xian

--
Christian Crumlish http://xianlandia.com
Yahoo! pattern detective http://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns
IA Institute director of technology http://iainstitute.org

16 Oct 2007 - 5:01pm
leofrish
2007

As a bricks-and-mortar architect who received his training just as
Alexander's ideas were being published, I can personally attest to what
others have suggested about my cohort.

Namely, at the time "A Pattern Language" and "Timeless Way of Building"
came out, Alexander was strongly criticized for:

1) attempting even to categorize built environments into sub-components
2) creating categories that were ultimately culturally bound, in spite
of attempts to the contrary
3) reducing the act of design to applying cookbook style recipes
4) promoting the notion of "open source" architecture (not new to him by
any means, but reduced to a practice for certain) that claimed to
provide the essence of architecture through mechanical application of
patterns.

Oddly, Alexander's approaches came at the sunset of the modern period of
architecture. A young crop of architects were just emerging who were
rebelling (some might say revolting) against the established modernist
dogma. Alexander's "patterns" were the completion of the modernist
ethic: namely to create pre-assembled high-quality factory built
components from which buildings could be inexpensively assembled.
Alexander simply moved the notion up the chain to the act of design and
creation. His work also speaks to the early social influences on modern
architecture, egalitarianism, focus on users, access (from a design
standpoint) and so on.

With the emergence of post-modernist forms, a return to a more formal
language of architecture, a rediscovery of architectural movements
preceding modernism and in complete opposition to many of its tenets,
Alexander's work is revealed as yet another expression of the soulless
nature of the modern movement.

Without waxing more poetic on the topic, from my perspective, the act of
Architecture is perhaps the most complex design engagement human beings
have undertaken. There's little about it that's simple. While there
are fairly straightforward ways to put up structures, provide shelter
and all of the practical trappings that we associate with buildings,
that generally isn't what Architects are pursuing.

Alexander's work is nearly anti-Architecture. That is not to say it
isn't valuable. It's just not what many Architects desire to do.

Leo

16 Oct 2007 - 4:59pm
Christopher Fahey
2005

David Malouf wrote:
> At the heart of Alexander's work is that Patterns ARE. They are
> primarily a
> description of what already exists, but then through conversion of
> being
> described as a pattern is canonized. They are not rules for what
> you have to
> do, but rather suggestions for how previously similar "problems"
> have been
> solved "with success".

I agree that they're not at all rules, but I disagree with your
characterization of his purpose: it's not that Alexander's patterns
ARE existent in architecture, it's that they're what he thinks
architecture SHOULD BE based on. He was citing examples of patterns
that were consistent with his particular social and political world
view, things that he thought were good. They're very idiosyncratic:
they're incredibly poetic and spiritual, very socialist (even in many
cases communist), and almost never based on any sort of empirical
argument. Many of them are even, in my opinion, dead wrong. And they
are far from comprehensive -- he doesn't describe lots of very common
architectural patterns, such as how to house a prisoner, where a CEO
should sit with respect to his employees, how to structure a sales
floor to move lots of merchandise, or how to instill fear in
religious worshippers.

I don't even think of them as "suggestions". Alexander's pattern
language is a very particular cultural manifesto, which taken as a
whole comprises a way of building that he and his followers think
results in great architecture and shiny happy people.

> Patterns further can be innovated, they can be nested and scaled.
>
> To answer Christian. I "believe" in patterns, but am uncertain to
> how to
> best make them work in a living real workspace given my experience.
> I fall
> between the line academic who loves "pattern recognition" and a
> "gotta get
> it done" person.

My take on patterns is this: They should usually be thought of as a
"language", not as a "reference library" or even worse as a "solution
locator". You don't take a problem you have (say, "I need to present
the user with a small number of multiple mutually exclusive
selections") and then look up the pattern that best matches the
problem (in this case, a "radio button"). This just isn't how most
people work. Instead, you immerse yourself in the language of your
field and then when you face a problem the solution can be found in
your head, in your learned vocabulary, accessible in the same way
that a word might be accessible when you are forming a sentence. The
advantage of assembling a collection of patterns into a book like
Alexander's is that in a single sitting a reader can imbibe the full
breadth of his language, and can later look back to the book when
they need inspiration.

When a pattern is put into a library for reference, it becomes,
functionally, a style guide. I think of Yahoo's library as a style
guide when I go there for an answer to a particular problem, but I
see it as a pattern language when I go there simply to read through
it and absorb the holistic view of interaction design it embodies.
It's also something of a dictionary or thesaurus so you can see
proper usage within a given style idiom.

But the overarching language of interactive design should be seen as
something fluid and hard to pin down, much like a real language. The
whole world is a pattern language. But it's great when people like
Alexander, and organizations like Yahoo, attempt to carve out a set
of it as a good and consistent way of doing things. Just keep in mind
that it's just one way of doing things.

-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

16 Oct 2007 - 5:09pm
Peter Boersma
2003

David asked:
> Question: Has anyone spoken to people in the Architecture world and
> about their thoughts on Patterns. We seem to admire Alexander, but do
> they? And how are they using them if at all?

I recently used a quote from Brand's book to challenge IAs to think about combining design patterns and process patterns. The quote speaks of a collection of architectural design patterns, put together by some New York architects:

"in New York State, architects [..] have developed a database on roof design and performance. The database tracks a growing number of the state's 10,000 buildings, recording variables of location, design conditions, specified components, testing results, and the history of problems and their solutions. By correlating design information with performance problems, the architects identify patterns of success and failure."
(the slides for that EuroIA presentation, "Processes + Patterns - best practices on steroids" - with the challenge for IAs on slide 60&61 - are on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/pboersma/processes-patterns. Comments are welcome there or on the post on my blog: http://www.peterboersma.com/blog/2007/09/processes-patterns-euroia-2007.html or here)

I also seem to remember from Stewart Brand's "How Buildings Learn" (but can't find the right page; he references Alexander a lot!) that most architects now hate Alexanders work or don't know it, and only a handful appreciate it and follow or expand it.
Another quote from "How Buildings Learn" says something about how willing architects are to learn from what works and what doesn't:
'I recall asking one architect what he learned from his earlier buildings. "Oh, you never go back!" he explained, "It's too discouraging." [..] In a remarkable study of fifty-eight new business buildings near London, researchers found that in only one case in ten did the architect ever return to the building - and then with no interest in evaluation.' (page 66)
I have little hope that architects maintain pattern libraries...

Peter
--
Peter Boersma | Senior Interaction Designer | Info.nl
http://www.peterboersma.com/blog | http://www.info.nl

16 Oct 2007 - 6:51pm
Christian Crumlish
2006

On Oct 16, 2007, at 2:59 PM, Christopher Fahey wrote:
> When a pattern is put into a library for reference, it becomes,
> functionally, a style guide. I think of Yahoo's library as a style
> guide when I go there for an answer to a particular problem, but I
> see it as a pattern language when I go there simply to read through
> it and absorb the holistic view of interaction design it embodies.
> It's also something of a dictionary or thesaurus so you can see
> proper usage within a given style idiom.

+1

Also, it should be noted that there is no single pattern language in
any field or discipline. There are many pattern languages. Possibly
as many as there are designers.

--xian

17 Oct 2007 - 2:52pm
jayeffvee
2007

Perhaps because we all have a different idea of what embodies "the
quality without a name"?

:-)

<< xian wrote --

Also, it should be noted that there is no single pattern language in
any field or discipline. There are many pattern languages. Possibly
as many as there are designers. >>

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