There are two sites I’ve been spending a lot of time at: Web Design Practices and UI Patterns and Techniques. One observes they way things are done on the web and pulls out the common design choices; they other collects instances of the best way to design. You could say one is common practices and best practices.
There is a certain amount of overlap, but not as much as one might expect. This is partially because the practices site reverse-engineers, and thus must be primarily concerned with the visible; while the patterns site grows out of designers’ knowledge, and concerns itself with the invisible as well.
I can’t help but ponder the two: descriptive and prescriptive. And wonder what they mean to a designer: if a common practice turned out to be a bad practice, Nielson aside, what does that mean? Could you as a designer do something crappy just because everyone else did it? If a pattern is a great practice but nobody does it, what does that mean? Could you win the battles with your larger team to do something unusual (see earlier post on copying…) Would you want to flout convention?
I venture it means what it always means: design it as you best see fit.
When my husband wants to cook something he’s never done before, he has an odd practice. Rather than choosing a recipe to work from, he tries to find a dozen, reads them all then makes his own up based on the themes he’s found (a practice made easier by the web.) I see these new sites as cookbooks, to be read and learned from and improvised out of rather than followed. After all, we’re designers, not recipe followers.