UX & Architecture

why is UX not an integral part of Architecture?
Jaques Tati - bad UX in architecture

Why is UX not part of architecture?


User Experience, ubiquitously known as UX, basically includes all aspects of an interaction and experience by a user of a product or service. So my question is, why is UX not an integral part of Architecture?

UX, a relatively modern term, was coined by Don Norman when he went to work for Apple in 1993.  Although he gave it exposure, the concept of designing to the physical user experience of a product has been around for quite some time, just think of Feng Shui,& Ergonomics, both dating back to BC times.


Is architecture a product?


Some will argue that architecture is not a product and should not be confused with consumer goods, however I think that’s a foolish argument and economically incorrect.  Architecture happens as the result of a demand or need of a consumer.  Architecture transforms raw materials into finished goods for a price (…pharaohs and emperors excluded). Is that not the definition of a product?

Others will say that architecture is static, that aside from some doors and windows opening and closing, nothing happens, so how can there be an event to experience?  Because any one of your five senses creates a perception from external stimulus, such as the light moving across the floor, the smell of a material or the sound coming from an open window.  Those perceptions become the experience, and that experience is the basis for… well, everything.


Old versus new


When I was in architecture school, uttering the word “behaviorism” would have gotten you a swift paternal slap on the back of the head.  “We don’t design to behaviorism, we design to discover the truth, to what the brick wants to be”.  I don’t want to make this a pedagogical conversation, which deserves a lot more attention, I do however want to make the point that times have changed and our ability to study and understand cognitive experiences has grown exponentially.

More importantly, be it down to the hyper level of information available to us today, a consumer is empowered in ways that was not possible 20 – 30 years ago.  Architecture is arguably the biggest product a consumer can experience, it is wonderfully complex and has the potential to do more than just fulfill an objective program.


Architecture UX time span


Of course architecture has to shelter you or your services, but it has to do so over an experience span that can last years or even a lifetime.  Today, depending on the product, UX is measured in seconds, hours or days and as such the current design methodology speaks to that timeline.  The amount of learning and design detail that is invested into and comes out of such a user experience is huge and invaluable to the designer.  Just imagine if we could put that same value and attention into architecture, proportionally to how long the experience is, it would be a massive amount of data and analysis.

When talking about the length of the experience I’m not talking about how a building grows old or how a material weathers over time.  I’m talking about how the end user grows old and weathers over time in your design.  I’m also not talking about a general global consumer (there is no such thing), I’m talking about the actual User(s) who your design will serve.


What if…


What if we paid the same amount of attention to the user experience as Don Norman did for Apple?  What if we learned from our end user constantly?  What if we asked or observed her experience constantly? Undoubtedly the answer to those questions would be that we design a better product, a better experience.

Unfortunately for architecture the challenge is that the user experience is very, very long.  However that does not mean it can’t be done, we just have to figure out how.

Until the brick becomes the consumer, I suggest we design the experience for humans and while we’re at it, let’s make it a good UX.