Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Web Design & Development > Usability

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Detecting Patterns

When you have a lot of different concepts to look at, they may initially seem unrelated. But if you start moving them around, you may may see invisible connections that link some of them into groups. Sometimes you may find more than one set of connections among those groups. Each kind of meaningful grouping forms a pattern.

Designers will often put their ideas up on a wall on sticky notes. They do this so they can move each one around and see how they relate to each other. New connections form patterns that they can build on and add more detail to. This is why the “sticky wall” approach works well when looking for patterns among individual ideas or sketches created during a brainstorm.

Some ideas may be tackling a particular part of the problem to solve with a product solution. Still others may try to fix something else in the process (see page 46). Maybe there’s a strong trend towards solutions available on a mobile phone that you discuss and build on.

Here’s a simple exercise in pattern-finding.

  • Cars
  • Clowns
  • Lions
  • Planes
  • Birds
  • Boats
  • Criminals
  • Piranha
  • Police Officers
  • Fishermen
  • Tuna
  • Butterflies

At first look, the terms above may seem unrelated. But if you start moving them around, you’ll start seeing connections. Let’s say you move the following terms together in a group - what connection do they have?

  1. Birds, Lions, Butterflies, Tuna, and Piranha


  2. Planes, Birds, Butterflies


  3. Police Officers & Criminals     Fishermen & Tuna


  4. Clowns, Criminals, Lions, Piranha

    Things that Carolyn is afraid of

What other patterns can you make with these terms?

Game: Pick a Peck of People Patterns


Practice detecting patterns after brainstorming design concepts with a group.

What You’ll Need

  • A pad of sticky notes
  • Pen

Step 1: Pick a Challenge

As a group, choose a Challenge. You can refer back to your results from the Sponge activity, or you can make up a new one. We recommend, “Make tacos less messy for children to eat.”

Step 2: Hand out the Sticky Notes

Give each of the players the same number of sticky notes. Nine is a pretty good number to start with.

Step 3: Design Solutions

Without talking or consulting each other, everyone must come up with as many different design concepts as they can in the time allotted to address the Challenge. Write or sketch one concept per Post-It note.

Step 4: Sort Results

One by one, go around the room and have each player present his concepts. After each concept is explained, stick it on a board or wall that everyone can see.

Place similar concepts near to each other. As a group, discuss where to put each concept. Using the taco example from Step 1, you might place all concepts that revolved around re-designing the taco shell into one group. Name each group. In the case of our example, we’d call it “taco shells.”

Don’t be afraid to rearrange groups and further sub-divide as you go! For example, you might find that within the taco shell ideas, some people tried to create containers, while other redesigned the taco shells to replace utensils.

Step 5: The Big Picture

After you’ve plotted all of the concepts, step back and look at the patterns that emerged. What group is the biggest? Which is the smallest? Why do you think that some groups were bigger than others? After the brainstorm is over, keep sketching more concepts on your own over the next day. How are those concepts different?

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account