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An Architect's Approach to UX Journeys

Originally published on Webdesigner Depot

In both architectural design and UX design, the hypothesis is that a user has an end goal in mind. For both the architect and the UX designer, their job is to design an enjoyable experience for the user while keeping business objectives in mind.

A simple journey getting from Point A to Point B needs to be balanced with understated exposure to other possible routes. For example:

A family of five drives to a commercial shopping mall on a Sunday to buy groceries at the supermarket for the week. Dad is driving. He follows the signage to the parking garage. He notes the nearest lift lobby to the supermarket and finds a parking lot near it. He knows that a lot is open because the parking lot status indicator is shining green. Mom wheels the stroller up the ramp to the lobby and little Lucy presses the elevator button, which is designed to be at a universally friendly height. The family takes the elevator up to the third floor where the supermarket is.

The trip for the whole family was fuss-free. Along the way, they strolled by restaurants with lunch promotions and shop fronts displaying various items for sale. At some point, grandma saw a Japanese restaurant and developed a sudden hankering for sushi. The whole family decided to stop for a quick meal, patronizing the Japanese restaurant.

When architects plan a building, they consider the journey one has to take to get to a destination. In a building with good universal design, the basic expectations have to be met. The journey has to be accessible for all ;  that includes the able-bodied, the young, the old, and the handicapped. Signage is legible and appropriately placed to ensure that there is absolute clarity in finding a destination.

On top of these minimum requirements, an architect performs as the agent of his client. Part of that responsibility means taking business goals into consideration in order for the development to operate successfully upon completion. Depending on the intent of the development, he may find himself having to plan navigation in a way that boosts sales, or accomplish some other form of desired outcome.

For example, in the case of commercial retail projects, revenue has to be made. A successful commercial shopping mall makes profit by having reputable brands and helping them achieve target sales through a combined strategy of marketing and design. Boosting sales through design can work in many ways — the most obvious way is by choosing a retail space that is located in a prominent area. Giving exposure to the more obscurely placed shops helps to increase the overall profit of the development as well.

Instead of diverting users away from their journey to fulfill these business goals, architects often practice deliberate and subtle exposure, injecting bits of it along the way. This could be done in the form of opening up corridors to give glimpses of another route, clever placement of signage, etc. In UX design, there are also elements to be considered which are part of meeting business goals. They could be goals for new user sign-ups, advertisements and product placements for increased monetization, etc.

Cues can be taken from common architectural design practices by introducing these elements only at appropriate and opportune moments during a user’s journey, and by keeping them visually cohesive with the rest of the site.

Ease of navigation

A smooth journey contributes greatly to a pleasant experience for the user. Designing for seamless connectivity in architecture is very similar to designing for ease of navigation in UX design.

Can you recall the last time you were in a building trying to get to any floor beyond the second floor, and there was no elevator? Maybe you felt annoyed, or maybe you might have even made a vow to never step foot in that building again!

In architecture, the part where the elevators and staircases run is called the core. It is the main core of a building because it is essentially how people move between different spaces.

The secondary circulation system is the horizontal path which one has to walk on to get to point B. Make it too long and winding, and you will end up with a frustrated user.

Without an effective system for circulation both, vertically and horizontally, occupants are unable to access parts of that building. In addition, without proper signage, they might not even know these spaces exist. When that happens, those parts of the building can be deemed void. Building a strong core (circulation system) for a building is key for success.

Just like in architecture, if a user cannot find something on a page because of ineffective design, it is simply not there. If the elevators and staircases in architecture make up its core; in UX, menus and tabs make up the main navigation system.

If it is a frequently visited area of the building, it might make sense to make the journey shorter by placing it nearer to the core. Similarly, in UX design, reducing the number of clicks to get to a popular page improves the user experience. Introducing tabs on the landing page for the main pages of the site is one way to achieve that. In that way, the user does not have to open a menu to search for a page, thereby simplifying navigation.



In both architecture and UX design, the designer has to fulfill both the users’ goals as well as the business goals.

When learning from architectural processes, one of the main things to note is that architects do not have the luxury to tear down their design once it is under construction. UX professionals are often spoiled so much in the sense that there is this notion that designs can be easily reiterated after gathering user feedback and data. This may be true in some cases but it often requires more time and work than expected. Creating a good foundation early on when planning for a product is good practice, and can reduce a lot of back-and-forth in its growth.

A good architect is skilled in balancing the creation of delightful and smooth experiences in a building, and accomplishing his client’s objectives in the same experience. Applying architectural design thinking in this aspect will help you approach the design of your company’s product more effectively as a UX designer.

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