Adding process and pattern into the mix

Conventional pattern languages resolve the tensions between form and function in a particular context. The uses of a form gives rise to the design of a form which makes it easy and more likely to use the form. Patterns get applied to locating entrances, parking lots and walkways on a building site with limited space. Patterns improve GUI's (graphical user interfaces) by considering how users function when faced with too many pull down menus, buttons, pop-up windows and scroll bars to orient themselves among. Patterns also simplify the design of modularized software programs by incorporating best practices into the structure and coding when the complexity of the software exceeds anyone's ability to comprehend. In each of these applications, form and function combine into a closed cycle.

On the surface there appears to be nothing wrong with form and function serving each other. It creates lots of useful forms, functional structures and effective designs. Yet patterns for resolving tensions between form, function and context are like an automobile with no transmission and with no place to go that's better than where it's at. The auto fits into the garage with room to open the doors, starts easily, idles smoothly and seats the passengers comfortably. The auto has a form that is functioning superbly in the context of a garage with limited space. That's good enough for things like buildings, tools, appliances, user interfaces and every kind of infrastructure. It's not good enough for people who are relating to colleagues, learning new skills, changing their minds, collaborating with others, providing leadership, generating content or anything else that's distinctly human. Those situations call for adding process and pattern into the mix. An example makes this point better than an explanation.
A college student has an answer to the question: "What's the use of going to college?". That student is using college to get a diploma and an entrance ticket into the world of bigger paychecks, less unemployment and increased access to credit. The form of the college experience functions as a support system for getting a diploma. The system routinely produces the result and proves its functional fit with the student's use of it. Both the college and the student congratulate themselves on "mission accomplished". No questions asked. No alternatives considered. Never mind that the student failed to get an education, destroyed any future love of learning, and developed a chronic dependency on authority figures for instructions, deadlines and evaluations.

By adding process and pattern into the mix, all this changes. A distinct pattern get recognized among a wide variety of college students. It detects that some students only want a diploma while others want exceptional grades for scholarships, grad school or research positions. Some others want to learn how to think critically, explore new knowledge domains, formulate better questions and otherwise get a real education. A final cohort seeks added self-confidence through learning by teaching others, expressing themselves, and reflecting on what happens to them each day.

A process then gets added for migrating inside this pattern from one functionality to another. The college invites, orients, facilitates and encourages the change from or to getting diplomas, exceptional grades, a valuable education or a set-up for life long learning . If the system regressed to only supporting those seeking diplomas, red flags would go up. The loss of functionality would launch remedial action to restore the full pattern and process for moving between components of the pattern.
Whenever process and pattern get added into the mix, the outcomes are emergent from the complexity. Nobody is making users move between pattern components, but lots of movement occurs. The process for changing is not imposed on the users. The relative proportion of those in any one cohort depends on the combined effect of every relationship experienced by the users. The functionality is fallout from the synergy between the form of the system and the idiosyncratic uses made of it by its users. It's as if the car changes gears all the time and gets down the road to someplace better routinely.

No comments:

Post a Comment