Websites have encountered a lot of changes from their initial inception in the early 90s with there looks and how are they used. Over 20 years of evolution has changed our perception of websites from the worldwide commodity created from early adopters who were enthusiastic users and often times developers. Many developers got carried away in this phase and created ridiculous looking web pages with a lot of flashy gifs and images that were more of a personal statement than the look we are used to today.
Because humans are visual creatures, the age of "web designers" appeared. Diversity became the norm in this age, and from my perspective, this helped create the most beautiful and unique web page designs. Having something "unique" was equally as important as the content of the page itself, if not more. The appearance of Adobe Flash technology opened the door to richer content and presentation in the form of video, sound, and animation. There was no need for standardization of visual web page elements because designs were "unique" and more oriented on sending a personal message then elicit a call to action from the user. This shows a one to many relationship, one page for display to be admired by many visitors with no interactions until that point.
Things started to change with the emerging blogging platform age that allowed a new generation of millennials to write about pretty much anything. This was a big shift in perception of web pages because visitors became actively involved and started to connect with subcultures and separate themselves into interest-oriented groups.
Soon enough social networks appeared which changed the world as we know it and created demand for instant access and up to date information. In parallel, technological shifts in the shape of mobile devices created instant access to websites and more importantly, applications that were purely aesthetic oriented. Suddenly in a mere 15 years, web pages as pieces of art became blank canvases for anyone to create and connect and the age of sharing began. Read more about how anyone can be viewed as a designer in today's age in my previous post, Everyone Is a Designer.
The Web and native applications demanded interfaces to be simple, usable, and contain a minimal amount of unique design elements. Getting information fast and creating meaningful connections with a quick reply was more important than the aesthetic uniqueness of the early pages. Loading time was also an important factor because with slower internet connections on mobile devices there was more urgency for interface design to be aimed at mobile devices first and only then shift to desktops.
As web pages evolved to this stage, the “design and redesign a couple of years later“ approach didn't work anymore. Features, widgets, and add-ons were expected to be inserted into the design modules and flexibility was a priority over aesthetics. Maintainable, flexible, and agile designs were born with the emerging needs of demanding users who evolved from passive visitors and admirers. Everything became measurable, regular split or A/B testing for new features was standard and needed the support of a document that could quickly assemble “design“ components or pages from already existing components and elements.
This is where pattern libraries came into play. They provide structure and a way to organize visual and functional elements of user interfaces. Pattern libraries help list, categorize, and simplify user interfaces while providing a solution for bigger websites to standardized their designs and incorporate that into their brand identity.
In my next post, I will discuss how to create a pattern library and some best practices you can use when setting this up.