If you had to teach a class on the basics of web design, you would like to think that there are basic design principles to follow. Buttons, for instance, should look a certain way, behave in a certain way and should be included in certain web forms. This is how we know a button when we see one. Yet buttons are created in different forms with confusing navigation elements and broken design patterns, and still, people know that they are buttons.

This small example reminds us that sometimes, breaking the rules of design can be the better option – one that stands out. It’s important to obey the rules when the alternative could have a negative impact on your website, but is it ever acceptable to defy the norm and do something entirely different, creative and innovative?

First, let’s back up a bit and discuss the benefits to design patterns and why we have them in the first place.

  • They save time. Yes indeed, patterns save time because you don’t have to waste any of your day trying to figure out solutions that have already been figured out. In fact, applying the principles behind each pattern can solve other common design problems, too.
  • They make the Web easier to use. As designers follow more of the same practices, they get used to how things work and can breeze through things pretty quickly. Design patterns become blueprints over time; an example of how things should work.

As you can see, design patterns are good. The unfortunate part is that design patterns can be limiting and restrictive. They aren’t the best training tools, and they are not a replacement for UX expertise.

So when is it okay to break the rules and venture outside of traditional design patterns?

When there’s a Better Solution

One example is when a better solution exists outside the current solution, even though it may still be improved upon. This is something that is common with A/B testing. It does a great job of finding the better contender but it doesn’t make room for discovering new, innovative solutions. If more than one solution exists, it’s important to approach each new problem with a fresh set of eyes so that new avenues can be explored.

When the Pattern Goes Outdated

Secondly, it’s common for things related to the Web to go outdated over time. The way people use the Internet changes and so does the Internet itself, so it’s critical that designers are always thinking in terms of newness. Otherwise, they could get stuck in dangerous ruts that leave them with outdated, stale work.

Design patterns offer many benefits, but there are also pitfalls to be aware of. The best thing you can do is approach each project with an open mind, find new ways to solve recurrent problems, study relevant design patterns and stay up to date on the latest industry trends.