By: Jayati
March 3 2019

Implementing Pattern Libraries with Drupal

Consistency is a key element in two things, success and web development and both go hand in hand when working on developing a website, either from scratch or revamping an existing one. What aids this consistency is the ability to recognize a pattern that is often repeated in the process and then followed for achieving a common result.

Raindrops on a patterned fence


Ensuring a consistent and easy to maintain a website is one of the biggest headaches faced by large organizations. This is the exact gap where the suggestion of creating a pattern library as the solution can come into the picture.

But what are pattern libraries? And how can they be put to use? Let’s find out! 

Pattern libraries aid in using easy elements and styles in a project in order to document the visual language of a site, promote consistency, provide user control and reduce cognitive load.

What is a Pattern Library?

The primary attraction of a pattern library is that the time taking process of building new features and pages is reduced to a minimum

The importance of Pattern libraries gained attention in the tech space when developers started understanding the benefits of having readymade components for projects. In this era of wanting quick and easy fixes, the primary attraction of a pattern library is that the time taking the process of building new features and pages is reduced to a minimum. Thus, the main purpose is to help create consistent websites that are easy to maintain and become a solid part of the design and development process. A pattern library works in a way that it documents all ‘patterns’ (also known as modules) to defines what they look like and how they behave and code.

Style Guides, Pattern Libraries, Design Systems

Style guides, pattern libraries, and design systems may hold similar implication for designers and developers, but they exist as individual entities. Also, style guides and pattern libraries( also known as component libraries) may co-exist together to form complete and coherent design systems for a product. Let’s explore the difference between them in detail. 

Typically encompassing a company’s branding guidelines, including components like logo usage, designated color palettes, and editorial tone, a Style Guide is a collection of pre-designed elements to be followed to ensure consistency and a cohesive experience at the end. It is often wrapped as a whole by the company as a deliverable to work with vendors in partnerships. They can directly influence the look and feel of a Pattern Library with the basic difference being that Style Guides can have a standing without data, while Pattern Libraries do rely on some data to function.

On the other side, a Pattern Library often confine static UI elements, being storage for your components like articles, headers, galleries, dropdown menu, accordion, and even common web page layouts, like grids. Though style guides do not always worry about context and relationships with data, UI elements and their application in the overall user experience depend largely on context and the interplay with content. Thus, Pattern Libraries focus on interface design, and would not include rules that apply globally to print or other mediums.

This brings us to the Design system joining the dots between a style guide and a pattern library to define the principles relating to the way in which components should exert together. It defines how a layout should work is a form of product documentation which contains everything that helps with delivering the outcome.
 
Often influenced by a style guide, a pattern library usually includes HTML snippets or living documentation for website components which are well-documented and responsive. For instance, pattern libraries can include –

  • Buttons
  • Images
  • Hero 
  • Elements
  • Sliders
  • Galleries
  • Navigation
  • Articles

Why Do You Need A Pattern Library?

We have reached an understanding that pattern libraries escalate productivity, but how and in what ways it makes it possible on the ground level? Following are the three-fold benefits of pattern libraries:

Consistency

Development of big sites happens over a prolonged period by a group of developers working on it and requires to be revised regularly. This leads to a fragmented user interface unless everything is in place to ensure consistency.

From Navigation shifts position to form elements, everything has a different format and approach. A pattern library offers a straightforward way to duplicate existing design and functionality on any page of the site for a steady user interface in a fixed frame.

Reusability

If multiple web teams work on multiple sites of different departments in a company, they might end up reinventing the same styles at a considerable cost.

In such cases, a central pattern library can be formulated for reuse functionality and design. A pattern for a particular requirement in the area of responsibility can then be shared with the whole group and also be available for future projects.

This makes a new site or subsection becomes a mere matter of combining these patterns, in much the same way you build something out of Lego bricks.

Easy Maintenance

Having a consistent pattern library that everybody pools from makes the maintenance work easier as seeing all of the pieces in one place makes the task effortless. 

Having coded elements in the same way from the very beginning makes it much elementary for a developer to work on somebody else’s code. Also, for a new developer, work efficiency can speed up by looking at the existing pattern library in use and build the site based primarily on it.

Who Is It For?

End-User:

From the user’s perspective, websites and products that are familiar and consistent provide a smooth experience along with reducing cognitive load on the user.

Development Team:

For teams to focus on the bigger picture without worrying about pushing pixels, pattern libraries help ship products faster to ensure greater efficiency in internal processes and allowing engineers to re-use existing codes.

Organization:

Providing longevity to big sites which are developed by different people over a prolonged period and revised regularly, Pattern Libraries proves to increase the productivity of the organization at large.

One of the more popular Pattern Libraries, a static site generator called Pattern Lab, is based on Brad Frost’s Atomic Design concept. There are many others to choose from, but this blog will focus on Pattern Lab being a dynamic prototyping and organization tool.

Pattern Lab is available for download on GitHub and can be used as part of your existing or new projects.

Pattern Lab + Drupal 8 = Emulsify

Logo of Pattern Lab and Drupal = ‘Emulsify’ on a blue background


Emulsify is a component-driven prototyping tool that uses atomic design principle and modern frontend practice to develop a living style guide. It can be easily implemented into any CMS to render twig files as it adopts the methodology where the smallest components are atoms, which are assembled into molecules, organisms, templates, and finally pages.

With the shift for templating in Drupal 8 to Twig, a whole new range of tools are now available for theming.

Emulsify authorizes you to assemble and manage components in a way that enhance your workflow by integrating Pattern Lab. The Emulsify based project works with custom template names that are specific to the project, developers, and clients. This segregates category-wise patterns(modules) and increases the proficiency of the process.

Emulsify authorises you to assemble and manage components in a way that enhance your workflow by integrating Pattern Lab

When the templates are all set for production, Emulsify connects them to Drupal in a non-complex way as a Twig function (include, extends, or embed) and connects the Drupal templates to the component files.

Emulsify swears by a "living style guide" approach where the style guide components are the same ones in use on the live site. One doesn’t have to worry about the components becoming obsolete or looking unusual than the style guide.

Also, the components constructed with Emulsify are used on any project, with or without Drupal. In simpler terms, it can be used with any CMS that renders content with Twig, including WordPress. This provides an opportunity to work with any frontend expert in a development team as they will be only working with familiar technologies. However, if your project doesn't use Twig, Emulsify can still be used by designers and front-end developers to build a style guide and then be carried forward by backend developers.

In Conclusion

Though building a pattern library demands a lot of work, but once set, it eases the process for all future projects. You can always take baby steps and start small, with just a lightweight overview of the main patterns and modules, without any detailed documentation. Later, you can always progressively refactor and upgrade the pattern library over time by adding features according to the team need.

Aiming for a full-proof pattern library that solves all problems at once might take a year-long project’s time without immediate, tangible benefits to extract from. 

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