The digital pattern library is platform agnostic

Aaron Lott
Monday 25 April 2016

At the University of St Andrews we have a digital framework called the digital pattern library (DPL), which is used to make the University digital presence consistent across the website. We primarily build in TerminalFour Site Manager but it’s not the only platform we build websites for and we aren’t the only ones making digital products either.

What exactly is the digital pattern library?

The DPL is the standard that we, or other designers and programmers around the University, reference when building digital content. The framework has all the colours, font styles and sizes, and code patterns that are used around the website. These code patterns are modular elements of websites that can be used on a variety of pages or web applications. They will have undergone testing to ensure they work on a wide range of computers, tablets and phones, making certain that they work and convey the same information to any visitor regardless of device.

Because we are working to standardise the website, to make it a consistent look and feel across the sections, all the patterns are developed with this in mind. When we develop new patterns they are to be used across the website, or at least in several places. There are no single use patterns, as that would undermine the standardisation and consistency we are looking to establish across the website.

So the DPL is basically like a big set of LEGO bricks in which we build various school websites, pages and otherwise.  Some may be really specific and used sparingly, but with relatively simple building blocks we are able to make a vast array of interesting constructs and accommodate schools with widely different agendas.

Where is it used

While the digital communication team (DCT, which is us!) only really works on the website proper, there are many more web applications that staff and students interact with. Other places where the DPL gets used are iSaint (portal) and Moodle (virtual learning environment), where the look and feel is similar to the other University pages. Sometimes these third party applications (like Moodle) to which we apply our ‘coat of paint’ and fonts tend to be quite particular about how they accept changes, and in that sense we can only, to varying degrees, bring them into alignment with our styles.

The majority of the University website is built in the TerminalFour Site Manager content management system but there are also a large number of sites built on WordPress, all of which should be using the DPL to make sure they present the same consistent user experience. While our guides for house style, colours and fonts should be used everywhere (as that’s a lot easier to implement than code for most people) there is a lot of content so it’s difficult to quickly transition.

What does it mean to be platform agnostic?

The DPL has been designed in such a way that it’s not particular to one platform or another. We leave the specific details, the ‘how-to’ of coding, down to the developers and the system they’re coding for. Depending on the system, the code can be hugely varied but the product will be be similar, if not identical, to the end user.

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