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Human-Centered Design: What Architects Can Learn from UX Designers

The architectural practice has always been rooted in what people now call “human-centered design”. The term, coined by Irish engineer Mike Cooley in his 1987 publication “Human-Centred Systems” describes a design approach around identifying people’s needs and solving the right problem with simple interventions. Architecture balances between being aesthetic art and practical design. With multiple collaborators and goals for the project, the needs of the end-user often get compromised in the design process. To help architects better design for people, new methodologies may be inspired by human-centered design techniques developed by user experience (UX) designers.

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving, tailoring creations around the deeply-researched needs of the end-user. The process emphasizes a built empathy between the designers and the users to generate ideas and prototypes for innovative solutions. The approach is popularly used by UX designers to create digital worlds and extends itself to other fields in interaction design such as service design, systems design, and product design. In architecture, it may appear as a system to optimize the relationship between people and buildings to attend to a community’s needs.

Both architects and UX designers create experiences – one being physical and the other, digital. UX designers are involved in the process of acquiring and integrating a digital product, dealing with aspects like visual design, branding, usability, and function. The ideation processes highlight similarities between the disciplines – starting out with in-depth research on the site, context, and spatial demands; or users, business targets, and the product. Architects use this information to sketch out ideas in the form of spatial layouts, sections, or master plans and later develop prototype 3D models. UX designers would use the attained data to wireframe the design concept and develop basic layout blocks to outline the product flow.