ACM Computing Surveys
31(4), December 1999,
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Developing Hypermedia Applications
with Methods and Patterns
LIFIA - Facultad
de Informática, UNLP Web: http://www-lifia.info.unlp.edu.ar/
Calle 50 y 115 Primer Piso, La Plata,
Buenos Aires, (1900), Argentina
Tel/Fax: +54 221 4228252
Dept. de Informatica Web: http://www-nt.inf.puc-rio.br/
R. M. de S. Vicente 225, Rio de Janeiro, RJ 22453-900, Brazil
Tel:+55-21-512 8045/274 4449. Fax:+55-21-259 2232
Abstract: In this paper we argue that hypermedia
can and should be built using software engineering practices. We
our point by surveying the state of the art of the most representative
hypermedia applications: web-based applications. We next discuss why
improve the development process and briefly describe the OOHDM approach.
we analyze the rationale for recording design experience and present
some outstanding patterns are briefly mentioned. Finally, the need for a
repository is discussed together with our work in this direction
General Terms: Design, Hypermedia, Patterns, Web Engineering
Additional Key Words and Phrases: Web Information Systems
MotivationThe increasing popularity of the World Wide Web as a
host to different kinds of applications and the rapid evolution of
Web-based software from fancy and amateur Web-sites to critical
corporate systems have pushed hypermedia techniques further than ever
before. This new generation of applications that incorporate hypermedia
functionality into complex transactional systems should not suffer the
effects of the well-known software crisis [Pressman 1998]. They evolve
new releases are needed with tight schedules as they can
the core of the company's business (as for example in e-commerce
This brief analysis leads us to the first important conclusion:
- Complex hypermedia applications (like Web
applications) must be designed using software engineering techniques.
However, hypermedia (and Web) applications possess specific
characteristics that make them different from conventional software.
First, since building their navigation architecture is critical, this
design activity (navigation design) should be explicitly addressed.
Besides, hypermedia applications being highly interactive, user
interface aspects should also be recorded using some design primitives.
Unfortunately, state of the art software design notations and methods,
such as the Unified Modeling Language and their associated process
approaches [UML] fail to consider these particular characteristics of
hypermedia applications. This leads us to conclude that:
- There is a need for new methods that address
the previously mentioned design dimensions. Those methods should be easy
to integrate with existing ones, to conform to existing
Finally, since this market imposes short development cycles, time has
become a critical aspect for deploying effective applications, and
therefore design reuse must be emphasized to avoid development from
scratch every time. Design experience is now an essential aspect for
improving development times, which leads to the last fact of this
- Design experience should be recorded using a
formalism that makes it easy to convey and share by designers.
In the rest of this paper, we discuss our approach for developing
hypermedia applications. It combines the use of an object-oriented
method (OOHDM) with a growing set of hypermedia patterns that
encapsulates our (and others') design experience with this kind of
The Role of Design MethodsMany design methods have been
devised for the hypermedia domain [Garzotto 1993], [Isakowitz 1995], [Schwabe 1998]. They provide abstract, environment-independent
constructs that help to describe the problem domain in such a way that
hypermedia components (nodes, links, and indexes) can be then
implemented using the tools provided by a run-time setting.
What is common to all these methods is the view that hypermedia
development is as complex as general-purpose software development.
OOHDM [Schwabe 1998] for example divides the design space in four
activities: conceptual design, navigation design, abstract interface
design and implementation. In each activity a design model is built or
improved. OOHDM provides well-known object-oriented constructs such as
classes, objects, relationships, use scenarios, etc. to specify the
During conceptual design, an (object-oriented) model of the problem
domain is built. This model may contain complex object interactions and
behaviors as is now common in Web applications. Reusing standard
components is straightforward in this activity as the underlying
(object) model supports this kind of reuse. Navigation design aims at
specifying those components that the user will explore in the
application; nodes and links are specified using a view definition
language [Schwabe 1998] that allows customizing the conceptual model to
different user's profiles.
High level navigation constructs (such as navigational contexts,
composite nodes, hierarchical indexes, etc) can be defined using a set
of base classes that may be further specialized. OOHDM provides a set of
simple design primitives for specifying both the static and dynamic
aspects of the interface. These design models can be straightforwardly
mapped into an implementation environment. When this environment is
itself object-oriented, the translation is even more direct. Simple
heuristics exist (see [Schwabe 1998] for example) for deploying OOHDM
models using non object-oriented tools (HTML, Toolbook, etc). OOHDM has
also proved to be a good design framework for extending legacy
applications with hypermedia technology. When such applications have
been designed with object-oriented techniques the extension is
straightforward as the application is considered as the conceptual model
in the OOHDM process model; if the application has been designed using
conventional techniques (such as relational databases),
object wrappers can be easily used to adapt them to the object-oriented
style [Gamma 1995].
We have used OOHDM for implementing applications in different domains
and implementation settings[Portinari 1996]; we are also aware of dozens
of implementations using other design methods. We can draw some clear
conclusions: first, viewing the hypermedia development enterprise with
an engineering view not only helps to understand and document design
decisions (thus making maintenance and evolution easier), but also
improves communication among different stakeholders (such as managers
and final users). However, if we want to improve design reuse we need
higher level abstractions both to document complex design decisions and
to record successful solutions to recurrent problems.
Capturing Design Experience with PatternsDesign Patterns are
a powerful vehicle for recording and conveying design experience. They
have been introduced by C. Alexander [Alexander 1977] in the area of
urban planning, and they are being widely used in object-oriented
software design [Gamma 1995]. A design pattern describes a recurrent
problem and an abstract solution to this problem in such a way that this
solution can be applied to different instantiations of the same problem;
patterns also describe the rationale and trade-offs when the proposed
solution is used.
Hypermedia is a rich field for discovering and applying patterns. The
OOHDM design framework has led us to classify hypermedia patterns as
architectural, navigation and interface patterns. Architectural patterns
address common problems related with the connection of databases or
legacy software with navigation front-end (as commonly found in Web
applications). Navigation and interface patterns [Rossi 1997] are quite
similar to Alexander's patterns as they show how to build (virtual)
navigable information spaces. They record the collective experience of
the hypertext community using a template similar to the one in [Gamma 1995], and are grouped in a growing and increasingly dense
Navigation patterns show how to push further the simple metaphor of
nodes and links and go a step beyond the usual naive solutions to a
design problem. For example, while inexperienced designers will only
look for links in strong semantic relationships, the "Set-based
Navigation" pattern shows when it is useful to connect nodes
opportunistically (for example when they belong to the same set, by
virtue of some property relevant to the task the user is trying to
perform). The "Node in Context" pattern meanwhile shows how to
address the situation when the same node appears in multiple sets,
allowing different representations depending on the set within which the
node is being accessed.
Interface patterns deal with building more than "fancy"
interfaces. For example, "Information on Demand" describes how
to organize interface objects when we want to avoid cognitive overhead
or when a node has many information items to be perceived. Discovering
new patterns is a rewarding activity as it helps to leverage our
experience, increasing the level of discourse and it helps us reason on
our own (and others') designs. Pattern languages for user interface
and interaction design (i.e. set of patterns that address the whole
design space) are being now developed [Tidwell 1998].
Patterns are not tied to a particular design method; we can use our
pattern catalogue when developing hypermedia applications, even if we
are not using OOHDM. Moreover, patterns are powerful even if we do not
use any method at all to describe hypermedia applications. We are now
improving this catalogue by interacting with designers in different
areas inside the hypermedia domain. A first step in this direction can
be found in [Lowe 1999].
Concluding Remarks and Further Work
In this paper we have briefly addressed the problem of designing
hypermedia applications with a software engineering view. It is now
recognized that hypermedia design is critical in new areas such as
electronic commerce, digital libraries, etc. However design methods are
not by themselves a silver bullet. As hypermedia and interaction design
patterns catalogues grow, they can be used synergistically with design
methods to improve the development process by providing a convenient way
to reuse designs and/or components. However, the interaction among
patterns and methods is far from trivial. We need to study how to
integrate patterns as primitives of new methods; we also need to define
a systematic strategy for pattern mining as well as formal, unambiguous
notations to record them.
While the area of design methods, and related web engineering
initiatives (such as WCML [Gellersen 1997]), has been active in recent
years, there are still several problem areas that have been largely
untouched so far, that need to be addressed. For example, collaborative
and participatory design, design of electronic commerce applications,
application frameworks for hypermedia, etc. Another area of research and
development are the computer-aided environments for supporting the
entire life cycle of hypermedia application design and implementation.
Ideally, such environments should be as independent as possible of the
run-time environment and should provide tools for
"translating" abstract designs into a running hypermedia
applications. We are now working in the construction of a set of design
templates that encapsulate hypermedia patterns and that can be used in
the context of design environments.
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Portinari: http://www.portinari.org.br/, Embratel: http://www.embratel.com.br, Sebrae: http://www.sebrae.com.br
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The Unified Modeling Language: http://www.uml.rational/com/uml
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