(My Team’s vision for the 2024 Olympics in Pittsburgh PA | Team FlexHub | Fall ’15 | Rami Studio | Carnegie Mellon University)

From Architecture to UX Design

Find my last Architecture Portfolio here: https://issuu.com/jeremylu/docs/jlu

If you had asked me “do you want to be an Architect” just two years ago, I would have responded instantly with a head nod and a resounding:

“YES!…. Because I believe in helping people through design.” (or something to that extent)

Fresh out of college with five years of architectural schooling at Carnegie Mellon University under my belt, I walked out with a Bachelor of Architecture, a Diploma, and a Junior Architect job with a start date of July 11th, 2016. Little did I know that I would soon transition into the world of digital design and leave the built world (perhaps temporarily) behind.

Some background

To call Architecture School challenging is an understatement. Architecture school has a reputation for being one of the hardest majors at any given university. It takes five years to receive a Bachelor of Architecture from an accredited university. Financial strain from aside, the grueling projects, lack of sleep and pressure is enough to leave smiling freshman empty shells by the end of their five years. Only the most determined make it through, and it shows in the size difference between the incoming class and the graduating class. To put it in numbers, 55+ students entered the C.M.U. School of Architecture Class of 2015+. A few over 20 students left holding a diploma in 2016. Of the 20 walking out with a degree in Architecture, fewer would go on to pursue a career in Architecture.

A lot of weird sleeping positions were realized throughout my career…

People cried…ok, a lot of people cried (I cried)… hearts broke, and models and presentations were torn apart by Architects, judges, and professors. But the friendships, design skills and knowledge gained from 5 years of dedication to the cause is now immensely invaluable to me as I venture into the world of digital design. The breadth and scope of the projects completed uniquely prepare Architecture students for any design discipline. Its safe to say I wouldn’t change my design background in any capacity.

The Design Process (and how similar it is to UX)

UX is an extremely logical move for any unsatisfied Architect. Architecture school IS design school, just cranked up to 11, and the design process we develop and refine is identical to that of UX Design (and many other design disciplines). We spend five years learning and honing the process of researching, planning, designing, and iterating.

Its all about collaboration!

We learn first to understand the problem. What the goals are, what success looks like and how it is measured. We are either immersed in a design brief that involves site requirements, program requirements, structural requirements and environmental constraints, or are left to identify the problem, define the program, and iterate to solve and understand the different scenarios our users might encounter.

Week after week, iteration after iteration, we learn to defend solutions to our professors and critic groups while taking on constructive criticism. Over any given semester we progress from conceptual ideas and sketched solutions to final drawings/diagrams and detailed physical models, with countless iterations in-between.

We learned to design at many different scales. In school, we received projects as large as Urban interventions and as small as detailed joints for a more extensive curtain wall system. Projects as large as the urban level require big-picture solutions and thinking. In the same project, however, we might zoom into each element (say to the circulation of a particular building) to design and ensure that it contributes to the solution as a whole. Understanding scale and design as a system is inherent to any creative discipline.

A Diagram of our vision for the 2024 Olympics in Pittsburgh PA
The notorious 8ft model of our 2024 Olympics design in Pittsburgh PA.

Our team dynamic is similar. Very few projects in Architecture school are individual. Were taught from the beginning that good design comes from collaboration within our design team and with other entities like Contractors and Engineers. This is similar to how UX designers must collaborate with not only other designers but with developers and project managers if they hope to create a successful product.

Its all about the people! Every single design brief we are handed in school had people and their experiences at its center. We design for the human the same way UX Designers do when approaching a design problem.

Architecture School = UX Design School

User Experience Design is, at its core, the art of creating a particular experience for a given person. Architects live in the same plane, just in a different medium. Architects and UX Designers are generalists in that they develop the vision that encompasses all aspects of a design problem. UX Design is a field that requires multiple levels of planning, an understanding of user needs, and a creative depth that will allow you to solve complex problems at various scales. Great UX feels a lot like great Architecture.

So why am I leaving?

There is a vast difference between Architecture as a Profession and Architecture academia. The creativity and fast-paced design process found between the walls of Architecture school aren’t seen in the profession. I pursued Architecture because I had a thirst for creativity, and a desire to help people. A few years into the field something felt off. Day after day, I felt as if I wasn’t making an impact on peoples lives. The work that I was doing did not quench the itch I had to design conceptually, create, and problem solve. I was being let down by the reality of the profession.

I felt guilty about “giving up.” I did. It took me a long time to get out of my head. I was paralyzed by strong words from hardened friends currently practicing Architecture as well as the belief that I was “quitting.” I despise that term! But I began to understand the value of what I had learned and accomplished under the umbrella of Architecture. I realized that I was prepared more than most for the jump into designing for the digital world.

(Final Review | Spring ’16 | Mars Studio| Carnegie Mellon University)

I left my job as a Junior Designer on July 16th, 2017. I’m now attending Designation’s six month, full time immersive UX Bootcamp.


A few quotes about why architects make great UX designers:

Architects are experts at understanding how people interact with their environments. They are ideally suited for roles as UX designers. This kind of thinking is desperately needed in the emerging digital world, Johns says. “By questioning the new environments created through software, we have the opportunity to shape our world through a different medium.”
Architects also bring “a fresh and relevant perspective.” UX designers are digital architects and we can all learn from each other.