As information architects, we can use our IA skills to build better projects and pathways for action, using pattern language as a method of encapsulating practical knowledge. Born from Christopher Alexander’s architectural practice, the idea of a pattern language quickly found use in computer science – inspiring the wiki, and object oriented programming – and has seen limited, continued use in architecture. Now these elegant semi-lattice information structures are finding their way into new venues: instead of guiding built structure, they help us build activities.
Here we take a look at the genesis of pattern languages and what makes them a unique information-action system: their built-in perspective of quality, their respect for context, their re-usability across multiple projects, and their use as a systems-generating-system.
We’ll work an example to prove the power, with a domain-specific pattern language, purpose built for running high-quality research projects in the course of service delivery. We will see how the same sequence of patterns, applied in different contexts, will create different but similarly high-quality project outcomes.