Patterns allow content designers to design content solutions consistently and at scale. There are smart ways and less than smart ways to leverage patterns.
People come to principles with a single question in their mind: “What should I do?” Tell them. Don’t hedge or use nuanced language, even if the the principle is a matter of taste or subjective. Patterns should present the reader with an unambiguous point of view on a design choice. It’s already been thought about so they don’t have to.
Every pattern change comes at a cost and that cost is maintaining consistency. The benefit of a tweak should far outweigh this cost. There’s also the behavior change factor: people hate unlearning things even more than they hate learning things. When you change a standard, explain why you did so, and be prepared to repeat yourself.
You should create patterns often, because every new pattern saves a designer from future hand-wringing and thinking. It saves everyone time. But don’t pull ideas out of thin air: patterns should actual problems designers come to you with. Develop patterns around real demand.
If folks find a pattern unusable, change it or prune it. All patterns should be useful and relevant, and irrelevant ones undermine your principles as a whole. Bad patterns are ones not followed. Either amend the pattern to make it possible to follow, or acknowledge that it’s not solving a problem people care about.
There are also principled ways to use patterns. Yes, that’s right. Here are three ways to use patterns properly.
Every time you use a pattern you will be tempted to second-guess it, and refine it. Supress this temptation, because it will only slow you down. Assume the pattern has been well-considered and that it represents the best current opinion on the subject. No pattern is universal, but there is probably a way to make it work for your case.
Patterns are like cookie cutters: they keep stuff the same. That sameness keeps the “mountain of concepts” manageable for both you and your users. But every now and then following a pattern would actually make things harder for your user. In these cases, and only these cases, you should make an exception.
If you’re not using a pattern to solve a problem, you’re thinking and thinking uses up time and precious calories. Make sure you keep track of content problems a single place, where solutions can be compared with other similar work. Find similarities, debate strategy, align on a principle, and publish the pattern as soon as possible.