Ummm…Where am I? Improving Usability in Knit Patterns

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Seemingly ‘easy’ patterns can always be made more usable

Usability: “The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” ~ ISO 9241-11

Usability is an important concept! It also happens to be quite challenging to put into practice. For example, note that the definition of usability includes the phrase “specified users.” Our knit patterns are available for anyone so, even though we specify an intended user (adventurous beginning knitter, advanced knitter, etc.) we know that anyone may try to knit from the pattern.

So, what’s a pattern writer or tech editor to do?

One easy thing would be to include what I like to think of as signposts or route markers. These are the things that tell a knitter that they’re on the right path.

In a knitting pattern, things that can serve as route markers include:

  • charts
  • stitch counts for each row or section of a pattern – especially when the section includes stitch count changes
  • yarn amounts needed for specific section of the pattern
  • schematics that indicate dimensions, knitting direction, etc.
  • and more….

Think of the last road trip you took. Your route definitely had a starting point and an end point. Along the way, there were also road signs to let you know you were on the right route. Those road signs helped you continue  confidently on your journey. This same concept can be used when creating knitting patterns.

For a specific example about how charts can help with usability, see my Adventura Shawl Adventure post.

Since I recently had this specific experience, let’s noodle out a fairly simple eyelet mesh pattern to see where things can go wrong.

Eyelet mesh typically has rows of [yo, k2tog] repeats. Normally, this wouldn’t seem very challenging and you wouldn’t think a chart would be necessary or even useful.

Then again…

…when you’re on row 2 and beyond and you’re knitting two together, which two stitches should you knit together? Does it matter?

The swatches in the image at right suggest that the order of stitches knit together is important.

The swatches look different because the combination of the two stitches knit together was reversed.

Notice how the columns of stitches lean in different directions. Of course, the effect was then exaggerated by the yarn overs between the columns of k2tog.

Normally, a [yo, k2tog] repeat is a fairly easy stitch combo. But, when you begin adding increases and decreases, it is easy to go astray. And, if you don’t have a chart to let you know you have gone astray, you can knit quite a few stitches before you realize you’ve made a mistake.

So, what’s happening with those swatches?? Let’s take a closer look.

In the swatch at right, the column of k2tog stitches leans right. The knit stitch lays on top of the yarn over stitch that precedes it and was knit together with it. Since the yarn over is to the right of the two stitches knit together the column of stitches leans right.

In this swatch, the column of k2tog stitches leans left. The yarn over leans to the right as it lays over the top of the knit stitch. But the column of stitches leans left because the yarn over stitch was to the left of the two stitches knit together. I actually love this one, but it isn’t what the pattern called for!

How can we improve this situation?

One simple usability solution would be to include a note that explains which two stitches should be knit together. An image to go along with the explanatory text would also be helpful.

Another simple solution would be to include a chart. Consider how easy it would be to know if you’re knitting the correct two stitches together if you had either of the charts at the right.

I suppose a third ‘solution’ would be to assume that I’m the only knitter on the planet who doesn’t know this and simply leave the pattern as is. It is possible that this is just about my lack of knowledge. Goodness knows I have lots to learn! But, I prefer to think that if I didn’t know it, there’s probably at least one other person who doesn’t. So, I’ll be including charts in my designs – even the seemingly simple ones – in order to improve the pattern usability. 🙂

Your Thoughts?

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