A Brief Explanation of Design Patterns:
As web design matures and evolves, the collection of web design best practices grows with it. There are best practices for readability, markup, accessibility, usability, on and on and on. As designers, we look to keep our design approaches creative and fresh while at the same time knowing when not to screw with these established practices. These "practices," especially in the realm of user interface design, are often referred to as "design patterns."
A couple of the many definitions for a design pattern:
- A generally repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem.
- An optimal solution to a common problem within a specific context.
Common user interface questions for which design patterns are well established:
- When I want to filter content on a page, what are the most usable approaches I can take?
- If I want to rotate through features, images, or news articles on a page, what are some proven solutions?
- What are the most effective ways to include error messaging in my web forms?
- What are the most common approaches to designing rating systems?
You get the idea. These, and hundreds of questions like them, have been hammered out, time-tested, and answered by many designers, developers, and ultimately, web users. They may get tweaked, and they will improve and evolve, but the most solid current solutions are well documented and readily (and visually) available for your perusing.