Microsoft Application Archetypes - developing guidelines around types of application

Microsoft is working on expanding their user experience guidelines for the next generation of Windows "Longhorn" with a concept called application archetypes.

The one-size-fits-all approach to the Windows user experience is becoming less useful. We're planning a new approach that recognizes a set of different models for "Longhorn" applications. We're calling these models archetypes, meaning "something that serves as the model or pattern for other things of the same type."

Interesting to see the different archetypes they've defined: Document editors, Database apps, Production/development environments, E-commerce, Information/reference, Entertainment apps, Viewer apps, and Utility applications. The most interesting part - the lines between the desktop and the web really seem to blur with some of these, and IAs and others with a web focus will need to embrace and extend to stay relevant.

As well as general guidelines, the team is working on a book of "user experience recipes" for different archetypes - taking design patterns and showing how they integrate together for a particular purpose. The recipes are heavily based on scenarios following a particular user through several tasks (I wonder if they have personas for each application archetype?) You can see the sample recipe for Database apps.

(on an interesting sidenote, check out the graph at the bottom of the article showing how people rated it. One for Widgetopia...)

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Aaron Marcus on Design Patterns

Along similar lines, the current issue of ACM Interactions contains an article by Aaron Marcus (of AM+A), on the use of design patterns. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate the full text of the article online outside of the member-only ACM digital library. If anyone would like a full copy, however, I'd be glad to download and mail the PDF. Just shoot me a message.

Marcus's idea sounds similar to Microsoft's, but sounds more... complete, useful, non-platform specific. Rather than go on and on about it, I've pasted a few paragraphs from the article here. Enjoy!

Design patterns are formalized descriptions of proven concepts that express nontrivial solutions to some design challenge. Design patterns consist of a set of contexts, common challenges (called problems), descriptions, enumeration of forces on the general resolution of the forces, and their impact on the final solution. In the original theory, architectural design patterns were relevant at all scales of built form, from parts of rooms to buildings, neighborhoods, and entire urban areas. In UI theory, design patterns are applicable for all user types, applications, platforms, content, and markets. The objective of using design patterns is to increase the quality of well-designed UIs with improved usability, usefulness, and appeal.

As one group of theorists put it, a primary goal of patterns is to create an inventory of solutions to help UI designers resolve challenges that are recurring and difficult [9]. Another theorist commented that patterns provide good solutions to common design challenges within specified contexts by describing invariant qualities of all those solutions [11]. An important idea is that design patterns capture the essence of a general solution in a way that enables other people to design, evaluate, and build it more easily and successfully.

So, what are the benefits of using UI design patterns? Well, for one thing, they are supposed to supplement existing documentation by providing background reasoning for the solution, which guidelines and standards may not. Of special importance is the ability of design patterns to serve as a means for exchanging ideas among different disciplines and stakeholders, making it possible for engineers, designers, evaluators, marketers, funders, and, yes, even users, to communicate more effectively with each other. Design patterns capture knowledge, promote reuse, and require only hours to apply, even though they may have taken many years to create. As such, they are valuable intellectual property.