Tools for Creating Pattern Libraries

Jared Spool

January 9th, 2009

Back in 2006, I wrote an article called The Elements of a Design Pattern which has proven to be very popular. The interesting thing about popular articles is they regularly get good comments, long after they were written.

Fast forward three years and today we get a comment from Tessie asking:

I am currently designing a pattern library for my company. Can you recommend any pattern library systems which we can purchase which is easy to update and features a commenting system?

I didn’t know the answer, so I pinged Nathan Curtis, who is our go-to-guy on building pattern libraries these days. Here’s what he wrote back:

Good question. In my experience, I’ve not come across a pre-fab application for documenting patterns, components, or other libraries of reusable design assets that have the types of attributes (e.g., Use When) and other specific features. Instead, I’ve seen that teams have gone one of four routes to publish library documentation:

  1. Home-grown systems: This is expensive and time-consuming, but ultimately the most advanced and tailored solution for an organization. Yahoo has written (on boxesandarrows.com) and subsequently spoken extensively about the challenges and roadmap they’ve traversed. Sun Microsystems has also use a custom website as the cornerstone of their efforts; lucky for us, they expose it to the community too at sun.com/webdesign/.
  2. Collaboration tools: One team effectively used Jive Software’s Clearspace tool that includes a well suited three-prong feature set: wiki (articles per pattern & component, including editing permissions for team & individual, commenting and ratings), discussion boards (new requests, general discussions), and blog (publish ongoing notifications and articles about the overall library).
  3. Basic tools: Other teams have set up a wiki or tried to transform a basic collaborative tool to publish patterns. This may be a good short term fix, but isn’t really a tenable long term solution unless you can really start to customize it.
  4. Documents: For better or worse, some teams don’t have access to web-based solutions for publishing a library, and this really hamstrings their efforts. That said, they’ve gone to great lengths to compose documents (like a “Component Guide”, “User Experience Guide”, or “Pattern Library”) that become a versioned document managed over time. Additionally, with a modular documentation system, they can architect their guides in such a way that pages can be linked to project-specific documents as appendices or even key pages to scale changes or overlay annotations.

Hope this helps!

I think it does! What do you think?

[You may have heard: Nathan will be presenting his full-day workshop, Achieving Reuse with Patterns and Libraries at the UIE Web App Summit. Check it out!]

8 Responses to “Tools for Creating Pattern Libraries”

  1. Lorraine Chisholm Says:

    If you want to try out some social pattern libraries rather than create a walled garden, try http://uipatternfactory.com/

    or http://ui-patterns.com/

  2. Steven Walling Says:

    It’s awesome that you mention wikis as a tool for creating pattern libraries, since the very first wiki was created to house one.

  3. Rainer Gibbert Says:

    It is really astonishing and also a pitty that after all these times people creating UI Design patterns and pattern libraries, not a single useful pattern editing tool is available. :-(

    A couple of years ago, I learned about a tool called CoPE (http://www.hcipatterns.org/tiki-index.php?page=tools#) developed by Till Schümmer and Wolfram Schobert from the Fern-Universitaet Hagen in Germany, but unfortunately it seems that they never brought the project to an (usable) end. Furthermore, the tool was a windows-application which from my point of view is a no-go for a collaborative pattern creating and managing tool which should be web-based.

  4. Jared Spool Says:

    It is really astonishing and also a pitty that after all these times people creating UI Design patterns and pattern libraries, not a single useful pattern editing tool is available. :-(

    @Rainer: One person’s disappointment is another person’s business opportunity. Sounds like there could be a market for group library creation, moderation, and curation tools.

  5. Jonathan Hung Says:

    I’m working on the open source project called the Fluid Project and we’re creating an open source pattern library where people can contribute and collaborate on patterns. The idea is to have a sustainable patterns community that creates and curates its own content.

    Thus, I’m intrigued by this part of Nathan’s response:

    “One team effectively used Jive Software’s Clearspace tool…wiki (articles per pattern & component, including editing permissions for team & individual, commenting and ratings), discussion boards (new requests, general discussions), and blog”

    Can someone point me to the site in which this is implemented? I’d love to see what they have done there since it sounds like it’s similar to what we’re attempting to do. We’re going to make a push over the next 4 months to get a great workflow and community features in place (and we can use help too!).

    Links:
    http://www.fluidproject.org (the parent project)
    http://www.uidesignpatterns.org (the pattern library currently in development)

  6. Bill from Atlassian Says:

    This may be a good short term fix, but isn’t really a tenable long term solution unless you can really start to customize it.

    Wikipatterns is a good pattern library built on a wiki (Confluence). It has over 100 patterns for improving wiki adoption and over 2,000 contributors.

  7. Twitrans: Twittern in sämtlichen Sprachen | Chris Korte » PC • Musik • Web Geek Says:

    [...] Tools for Creating Pattern Libraries » UIE Brain Sparks [...]

  8. Ambrose Little Says:

    Hi Jared,

    Great post and topic.

    I thought you and your audience might be interested in a new (free) RIA UX patterns tool called Quince.

    Read more about it here: http://snipurl.com/quince-intro

    Jump right into the tool here: http://quince.infragistics.com

    We’re also interested in working with other pattern libraries/curators to build a UX patterns council to further the patterns community. Anyone who’d like to do that can contact me via our team blog:
    http://sn.im/quince-contact

    Thanks again!

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