Episode 96 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with design leader and educator Erin Malone. Erin is the Chair of the Interaction Design Program at the California College of the Arts, where I also teach. She’s co-author of Designing Social Interfaces1 alongside Christian Crumlish.

Erin and her team originated one of the first UX design systems: Yahoo!’s Design Pattern Library. In this conversation, we discussed the evolution of design patterns throughout Erin’s career, culminating with her current work with the Anti-Defamation League to create a pattern library to reduce online hate.

I was curious to learn about a tension inherent in developing pattern libraries in agile environments, namely: the organization will only benefit from the library if it’s widely adopted, yet adoption may be seen as hindering progress, particularly if the team building the library is perceived as the “pattern police.” Erin corrected me:

We were not pattern police; we took a stance that we were never going to be the pattern police. What we tried to do was find stakeholders within the different properties who agreed with us — who were on the same page — to find early wins. And then, as the company grew and the user experience design teams in these different properties grew — particularly after we went public — people came to Yahoo! because of the pattern library.

This reminded me of an old approach to gaining traction: start with small wins to build support. Erin’s current work with the ADL focuses on an even harder problem, fighting online hate. She explained,

the first project that I was asked to do was to map and model, and diagram the ecosystem of online hate. And what that meant was I needed to model the ecosystem of what social is and how people move through social and the kinds of things they do, the kind of activities and tasks and things they do. The kind of people who get involved, particularly bad actors, and the kinds of ways they target people.

And in these brainstorming sessions and putting things together, I realized that many of the things we were asking for were the same across all the platforms. And, of course, that just says, “Well, there’s a pattern here.”

If your organization uses a design system, it’s likely based on Erin’s work. This conversation provides good insights into the origins of design pattern libraries and how they might be used to create a better web for all.

The Informed Life episode 96: Erin Malone on Pattern Libraries

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