Human beings are always looking for patterns. That’s why we see a face in the moon, mistake a tree root for a snake or think our coat hook looks like an octopus ready for a fight.
Pattern recognition, even when we’re seeing things that aren’t actually there, isn’t a product of overactive imaginations or something we developed to help us meet our insatiable need for Instagram content—it’s a skill that evolved long ago to protect us from danger.
Even a caveman can do it
Picture our ancestors sitting around a fire. They hear something in the bushes. They don’t have time to grunt and gesture about whether it’s the wind or a hungry lion. They recognize a simple pattern—sounds in the bushes = danger—so they quickly run for cover and live to see another pre-historic day.
While most of us don’t need to worry about hungry lions, we still use pattern recognition to make it through our day. It’s how we translate the chaos of unending sensory input into a story we can quickly understand and respond to. Otherwise, the flurry of activity surrounding us when doing something as common as commuting to work each morning would be overwhelming.
Patterns help us make sense of the world
As marketers, we capitalize on people’s natural affinity for patterns and the stories they generate to make stronger connections with our audiences. Patterns drive the copy we write, the designs we create and the data that powers both.
A simple pattern just about every writer, including this one, employs is the rule of three. Three is the magic number for creating a list that gives enough information to be satisfying but not so much that your audience tunes you out. Lists of three are also useful for creating rhythm and momentum, moving the reader along with a sense of anticipation. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Stop, drop and roll. (Make sure you remember that last one.)
Our designers use patterns to engage people in the creative we produce and provide visual clues on how to intuitively interact with our emails, websites and marketing tools. Patterns can steer visual flow, connect disparate bits of information and even express emotion. They can make complex ideas easier to understand. And in a crowded market when everyone is using the same patterns, going a different direction can help differentiate a message for greater impact.
When writing code, it’s important that all the bits and pieces follow the same patterns. This makes it much easier to switch contexts from the code that does thing A to the code that does thing B. When there’s an error, the patterns in failures offer valuable debugging hints. And though writing code might seem like something universally consistent, each of our coders has their own style and approach to the patterns they create. Someone intimately familiar with a coder’s work can recognize it by sight.
Look, up in the sky
Enjoy the patterns in your life. When you see a fire hydrant that looks like a short robot, a car grill that appears to be grinning at you, or Abraham Lincoln in a cluster of cumulus clouds, smile knowing you’re continuing a tradition as old as humanity.