Pattern Language

Modeled after the seminal work by Alexander, Silverstein, and Ishikawa, what follows is a series of design principles I have found during my time on the planet.

Expect these patterns to evolve over time, as my thinking changes.


Standards as Platforms

Standards connect different kinds of products to each other. Once a standard is established, innovation can occur on either side of the connection, making the standard itself a platform for change.

Mason jars have been around since the 1850s. You see them everywhere, typically as shabby-chic home decor, but their original intent was always food storage. Mason jars come in a variety of sizes, from 4oz up to 2L or larger.

Each jar has a threaded lip, which can accept a lid of matching thread. Older lids were solid metal, but this has evolved to a band-and-disc setup to make canning easier. 

Two standards have emerged: regular mouth and wide mouth jars.

Regular mouth jar lips are all exactly 2.75 inches in outer diameter. Wide mouth jar lips are all exactly 3.375 inches in outer diameter. Regular mouth was the original standard, and the vast majority of jars in circulation are of this type. Wide mouth jars are relatively new (mid-1900s), but allow one to can much wider objects, like pork or peach halves, without extra processing.

Canning one's food used to be a common American practice. The idea is pretty simple - take foods which are in surplus over the summer months, and process and store them until the winter, when they are scarce.  Pre-Consumerism, the home was seen as a center of production - "home economics". This is a classic tactic - building up a stock of food, so that the overall flow across time is uninterrupted.

That said, the process has moved away from the home and into the hands of corporate capitalism, as has people's trust in home-canned food. And yet most families still keep around the physical trappings of canning - the jars. They end up as coin jars, knickknack holders, art objects. They've become signifiers of a certain kind of Americana, a down-home country lifestyle that might once have actually involved canning and storing food.

That's starting to change. Canning parties abound across the US, especially among the under-30 crowd, echoing the Great Depression. 

Mason jars were always an industrial platform, in the sense that their threaded lips are a very standardized component, and you could use any brand of disc and band on any jar. This standard was noticed by the market, and now, a variety of non-canning lids can be purchased, which move the jars away from their original purpose, and into new, strange territory.

As an example, the Cuppow! , a bpa-free plastic lid that one uses instead of the canning disc, which turns the jar into a sippy cup. 

Since the top lips of all wide-mouth jars are the same, it's easy to switch the Cuppow! lid on to the appropriate sized jar for whatever you are drinking. A big lemonade might end up in a quart jar, and the lid still fits perfectly.

Cuppow! lids on two wide-mouth jars.

Cuppow! lids on two wide-mouth jars.

The Cuppow BNTO goes a step further - a separator reservoir that fits underneath a standard lid, allowing you to separate a salad from its dressing, pita bread from hummus, etc. The top lid seals both the BNTO reservoir and the jar as a whole.

Now, this food-persevering platform is a DIY snack consumption platform.

People are even making LED-and-Solar lids, for turning mason jars into off-grid lighting.

One brand of solar lid light, fitting standardmouth jars.

One brand of solar lid light, fitting standardmouth jars.

Think about the integration of small electronics with well-known traditional standards, whether that's jar lid diameter or any other common standard. Throw a Raspberry Pi mini-computer in there, and you've got a weatherproof, portable computing platform built inside a 170 year old shell.

Form follows function.
— Louis Sullivan

Kits for Activities

Pack a bag. Maybe two bags, with a shared backstock and standard checklist.

Hobbies, sports, volunteer activities, art-making, and family adventures are (typically) structured pursuits. As such, the items required to perform them are clearly distinguished and readily enumerable.

Enumerate them explicitly. From this known inventory, develop a standard kit of materials which you always take with you to that activity. Keep those materials in a unique bag, and make the checking and restocking of it routine. Create and print out checklists. Consider creating multiple backup copies of the physical kit, ready to go. At scale, you may need to implement a pull system to reorder backstock.

An example (a packing list for a short trip) can be found here.