From the early development phase up to the production phase, test pattern play a key role for microlithography. The requirement for test pattern is to represent the design well and to cover the space of all process conditions, e.g. to investigate the full process window and all other process parameters. This paper shows that the current state-of-the-art test pattern do not address these requirements sufficiently and makes suggestions for a better selection of test pattern. We present a new methodology to analyze an existing layout (e.g. logic library, test pattern or full chip) for critical layout situations which does not need precise process data. We call this method "process space decomposition", because it is aimed at decomposing the process impact to a layout feature into a sum of single independent contributions, the dimensions of the process space. This is a generalization of the classical process window, which examines defocus and exposure dependency of given test pattern, e.g. CD value of dense and isolated lines. In our process space we additionally define the dimensions resist effects, etch effects, mask error and misalignment, which describe the deviation of the printed silicon pattern from its target. We further extend it by the pattern space using a product based layout (library, full chip or synthetic test pattern). The criticality of pattern is defined by their deviation due to aerial image, their sensitivity to the respective dimension or several combinations of these. By exploring the process space for a given design, the method allows to find the most critical patterns independent of specific process parameters. The paper provides examples for different applications of the method: (1) selection of design oriented test pattern for lithography development (2) test pattern reduction in process characterization (3) verification/optimization of printability and performance of post processing procedures (like OPC) (4) creation of a sensitive process monitor.