It is quite obvious that Architecture differs from UX Design. Probably it’s much easier to find differences, but there are still few of them that are worth mentioning giving us a better perspective on this topic.
Architecture is with us for ages. First structures that served the housing purpose were shelters in the Neolithic period (up to 10 000 BC). In UX Design, I would compare these dwellings to command-line interfaces (one of the first means of interacting with computers): they don’t look good, they are not so comfortable/easy to use, but still can satisfy basic needs.
However, the significant awareness of these two disciplines happened after a while. In Architecture, we can relate it to the first book on the subject of architecture which is “De architectura” by Vitruvius dated in 1st century AD. It covered many aspects of design that are valid nowadays. On the other hand, in UX Design, we can think of Don Norman and his introduction of the term “user experience” in 1995 (which is more-or-less the evolution of Human-Computer Interaction area).
Looking at the dates, we can clearly see the disparity in the maturity of these to disciplines; nevertheless, we should remember that dynamic of these two disciplines matter as well.
For sure it is not surprising that product of both Architecture and UX Design process is something completely different, but it is also good to look at it in terms of analogies.
Keep in mind that by UX Design I mean the area that is not pumped by Human Experience, Customer Experience, Product Design or any other terms that are intentionally ignored in this particular comparison.
So as Architecture delivers physical objects, UX Design is responsible for digital products. When we think of space as an Architect’s canvas, we can relate it to screen which is the medium for UX Designer. If we go deeper, we will define building (as a very common structure that users interact with) and its digital counterpart — an interface (let’s say of an app)…
We can easily apply these analogies to other scales (larger or smaller), but I’m going to cover it in one of the similarities below.
That’s a huge difference and the one that played a significant role for me to become UX Designer.
In Architecture, before you will see the product, the real result of your work, it usually takes months, not rarely more than a year (including construction phase). During that time you can deliver dozens of digital products like apps or websites that serve their purpose with sufficient quality. In many cases, you are able to design & develop MVP (minimum viable product) within days — this is the significant advantage for impatient designers.
As expected, the long process leads to long-lasting product. It’s not unusual to see buildings that are 50 years old… and some of them would probably stand there for another 50 years or more. That might be quite rewarding for an Architect, but it also means huge responsibility for such designer.
In UX Desing it’s easygoing: you design an app, and in a year it would probably be updated to proud version 2.0, to become newer version with a fancy brand new name next year, and then forgotten, sold or died — which is not uncommon for digital products.
This area is not very flattering for Architects. Their research is mainly about context which in theory is not a wrong approach — they care about surroundings, relation to other building, to city space, to street scale, etc. Unfortunately, sometimes there is a lack of user needs research — they are easily interchangeable with business needs, business context. Times when the user needs where priority passed decades ago.
On the other hand, UX Design doesn’t ignore user at all. The design process is often preceded by diligence research, prototypes are tested with users, the finished product is thoroughly analyzed for user traffic and more. There is a business in this process as well but has a much lighter impact on final user experience.
I like this one because it’s a bit controversial.
Buildings — unlike paintings — are not usually signed by the Architect’s name. However, we can distinguish many buildings by design “style” and tell the name of the author. And I’m not talking about distinctive individuals like Gaudi, but more “toned” architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster or Bjarke Ingels (in fact, I wouldn’t call him “toned”). They have their own beliefs, their own ideas, their own means of expression which makes their buildings unique without the loss of quality or usability.
It is not the case in the most of digital products. Of course it is a different product with different possibilities to express authorship, but still — it’s a significant difference that means a lot to me.
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