ArchitectUXre: The User Experience of Buildings
When was the last time you worked with a user experience (UX) specialist? If at all, it was on a technology project, where at least one team member was dedicated to making sure the project was employing best practices in the product’s usability, accessibility and pleasure. It’s a role that’s emerged specifically out of web and technology design. But what about in architecture? Probably not. At least, not overtly. But there’s absolutely room for a UX specialist in architecture.
I propose to AEC professionals and to clients of AEC services the adoption of a UX specialist role on design teams: a UX Architect. This person would own responsibility for the usability, accessibility and pleasure in using a place, a building, a space – with emphasis on considering the ways that people will relate to the building as a point of physical interaction (even arguably as a piece of technology in and of itself).
In fairness, architects already do this. My own firm lives by a brand promise to “elevate the human experience through design.” And I’ve seen really beautiful, user-considerate work done by my peers. So I'm not saying that there's any lack of user-centric design considerations in architectural projects. Arguably far from it. But I propose this role because I think that the focus and accountability of professionals entirely devoted to UX considerations could propel architecture even farther.
The UX Architect would touch every phase of a project, from predesign goal setting and visioning all the way through to construction administration and close-out. They would support design and technical staff in always looking at ideas and proposed solutions from the perspective of the users, even at the most detailed levels. And they would do so from a perspective of user interaction, not just function – which is immensely valuable when experience-loving architects have to buckle down and look at many technical details in function, construction, code and etc. With one person wholly devoted to UX, we’ll always have a voice that’s owning experience-level goals and intentions even while resolving technical challenges.
I admit, there’s risk of sounding squishy when we talk in terms of “user experience” in architecture. And there might be some of that to this role. But I’d further propose that in taking a more focused and a more detailed look at each aspect of the project, there’s room to develop metrics against which a building’s UX success can be evaluated! Some ideas include:
- Work with the client during project goal-setting to define a set of metrics that make sense to them culturally and operationally. Given who they are, what’s the best measure of great UX? For example, on the Boeing Everett Delivery Center, the earliest workshops included deep-dive analysis of how the facility would create a world-class customer experience of Boeing’s brand – but further included analysis of how staff experiences overlaid with those customer-focused operations and spaces, and even the diverse cultural needs entailed in serving clients from around the world.
- Start a project with a post-occupancy evaluation. Assess their current facilities from a UX perspective, and document those as baseline metrics. One way our teams have done this in the past is through site-observation visits where designers specifically don’t interview building users, and instead simply observe the users’ common, daily activities and points of interaction with the building and with one another within the building.
- Wrap up the project with a final evaluation against the chosen metrics. Document them and review them with the client. Identify what is and maybe isn’t working as the basis for future projects.
For those of us who are passionate about this profession, we will always design beautiful buildings. We will always invest ourselves in the technical excellence of our deliverables. And the best of us will always want architecture to be a great experience for people. Why not take it to that next UX level?