Usability Pattern Language: creating a community

An  Interact '99 Workshop

Monday 30th August 1999, Edinburgh, Scotland


Patterns have proved to be a Big Idea in the object-oriented software design world.  Pattern Language may turn out to be an even bigger idea for the HCI community!

This workshop is intended to develop the idea of using pattern languages for recording and disseminating good practice in HCI/usability design, and to build a community of HCI design pattern practitioners.

The idea of patterns and pattern language, originally developed by the architect Christopher Alexander and colleagues in the 1960's, has been widely applied in the area of object-oriented software design.   On the face of it, Alexander's original use of pattern language for the planning of towns and design of architecture has a more immediate applicability to user interface design.  Researchers and designers in HCI are faced with the similar challenge of creating interfaces, systems and settings for systems which have that 'quality without a name', which in our community we acknowledge via terms such as 'user friendliness,' 'affordance,' 'intuitive,' 'transparent' and so on.  What is more, there are very direct analogies between the architectural and HCI domains: we constantly appeal to spatial notions in HCI design whether we are discussing screen layout, information visualization, web navigation or interaction in virtual reality environments.  Moreover, Alexander's goal of enabling inhabitants to design their own environments is quite close to HCI's paradigm of participatory design.  Alexander's ideas have recently begun to be explored for application to the practice of HCI design, most notably in the Design Patterns Workshop at CHI'97, (Erickson, T.  Report on Design Patterns Workshop CHI '97. ) and HCI design pattern languages have started to appear.  For a substantial example, see Jenny Tidwell's Web site, (Tidwell, J.  Common Ground:  A Pattern Language for Human-Computer Interface Design,  ) and our own, more modest collection, (The Usability Group at the University of Brighton UK,  The Brighton Usability Pattern Collection, ).

The workshop, will address the following issues with the aim of initiating a continuous process of HCI design pattern development and review:

  • how best to find HCI design patterns
  • how to document them
  • how to maintain pattern languages
  • how to disseminate pattern languages
  • how to use them to bridge interdisciplinary gaps
  • how to apply patterns
  • how to evaluate patterns
  • how to evaluate the application of patterns
  • if and how to teach pattern use
  • case studies and examples
  • It is intended that this workshop will help to establish an international  community of HCI pattern writers and that structures will be set up at this meeting to support this community.

    Intention to participate

    If you intend to take part in the workshop, please submit a full (Alexander-format) pattern which relates to an aspect of human computer interaction, together with a short (1-2 page) outline of your own position on patterns for interaction design. These, together with existing patterns, will form the basis of the practical work of the meeting and will be circulated to participants beforehand.  Submission can be electronic (e-mailed URL reference to a single HTML page, PDF or Word or plain text) or on paper.

    However, we may allow additional people to attend the workshop even if they cannot submit a position paper, but only if space permits.

    To attend the workshop, you are expected to register for Interact 99 ( ), but talk to us if this is not possible, and there is an additional fee of £40 to cover workshop expenses.


    Submission to:

    Mr R N Griffiths
    School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences
    University of Brighton
    Lewes Rd
    BN2 4GJ


    For further information, please contact any of the facilitators:

    Richard Griffiths, University of Brighton, UK (
    Lyn Pemberton, University of Brighton, UK (
    Jan Borchers, University of Linz, Austria (

    More information on the workshop will eventually be placed at this URL.

    This page is maintained by Richard Griffiths and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the University of Brighton.