TITLE: Patterns Books, But No Software To Be Seen AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 09, 2005 3:40 PM DESC: Some artists face client demands, time limits, budget restrictions, and a host of material and style limitations. It's no surprise that they seek patterns of successful products, too. ----- BODY: On the flight home from ChiliPLoP, I read a review of a patterns book -- though neither the book's title nor the review itself ever used 'patterns'. And it isn't a software book; it's on graphic design. The book is Problem Solved: A Primer for Design and Communication, by Michael Johnson. The review begins with a quote from the book that distinguishes artists from designers:
[While] a fine art student can get away with creating his or her own problems to solve, a communications student is usually handed someone else's, with a looming deadline thrown in.
Designers create, but what they create is usually circumscribed by the needs of a client, and the act of creation itself is circumscribed by limitations of time and budget, style and material. Of course, limitations don't eliminate the need for creativity. In fact, they may enhance creativity. But working in the presence of limitations means that designers are also problem solvers. Problem Solved addresses the needs of designer-as-problem-solver by compiling "a typology ... of kinds of problems" and identifies "trustworthy, time-saving means to address those problems." Each section of the book focuses on a particular kind of communication problem, such as how to use a historical style in a "fresh" way or how to resolve ethical dilemmas. Each problem is
summed up by a memorable heading that (consistent with the samples shown) is both surprising and suitable.
This sounds like a patterns catalog, and the headings and photo illustrations that lead its sections sound a lot like the iconic photos that Alexander uses to evoke his patterns. I'd think that graphic design is an area ripe for mining patterns. I also wonder to what extent Alexander's work has had an effect in design disciplines outside of architecture and software. One of my favorite non-software patterns projects was a crossover: Rosemary Michelle Simpson's work on patterns of information structure indices. (Rosemary is a master indexer and created the indices for many of the best-known patterns and java books.) I read this book review in the Autumn 2004 issue of Ballast Quarterly Review. The editor, publisher, and primary writer of Ballast is Roy Behrens, a design professor at the University of Northern Iowa. This little journal is a pastiche of passages from books, witty quotes, curious illustrations, and book reviews, with bias toward the arts. Check it out -- it'll only cost you a few postage stamps. Oh, and this issue of Ballast did review a book with the word 'pattern' in the title: DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material. DPM is an encyclopedia of camouflage in nature, the military, and culture. The title of this book is just what I want some of my own work to be... :-) -----