Spatial thinking for UX Designers

from architecture to UX design, these are my insights (so far)

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my journey into UX design started with five years of architecture school at Pratt Institute. While there, I learned to think about how spatial design impacts people every day: walking down the street, entering a space, in their daily work environment, during their commute home, in their schools and dwellings.

As I’ve moved into User Experience Design, I’ve realized there are two things that Architects and UX designers inherently have in common: we strive to create places that are deeply memorable and we believe in quality experiences for all humans.

These similarities ring loud and clear every time I set pen to paper, and their guiding principles can be applied to any UX challenge.

when I told myself I was going to write a blog post this is what happened… I suppose it corresponds to below

1. DESIGN WITH INTENTION.

We cannot design for everyone. Limitations are beneficial in so many ways. They help us narrow the scope, focus on who the real users are, get to the ‘why’ and solve for specific problems.

2. GOOD UX RESIDES IN THE DNA OF THE PRODUCT.

There has to be a strong underlying idea. Sometimes it is the role of the UX Designer to provide the client with research that shows a different market fit for their product, or how they could improve the product. Just like architecture, projects are fluid and the scope can change. We use a process but that process is mendable.

3. THE WAY YOU ARRIVE DIRECTLY AFFECTS THE EXPERIENCE THE PERSON WILL HAVE.

Just like entrances in architecture, the cover of a book, a product’s packaging, or landing page set the tone for the user experience. Whoever said don’t judge a book by its cover has never looked at a book’s cover and thought ‘hmm, I better take it home and read it to decide if this caught my eye.’ You can have an incredible building but without an inviting entrance no one will see it — you catching on yet? UX? Same thing.

4. IMPLIED SPACE IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS ACTUAL SPACE.

In architecture implied spaces means a piece of a wall, a canopy, columns. In UX design the equivalent is white space. Implied space allows the eyes to bounce around and the mind to wonder. In architecture it allows the body to wonder and feel different enclosures. We have the power to create the conditions for a self-curated journey.

5. SOMETIMES YOUR AMAZING IDEAS AREN’T THE RIGHT IDEAS.

While we are all human, we have drastically different wants and needs. Our job is to focus on the users at hand in each project. If we remove ourselves from the equation we can do a better service for those who hired us. In architecture, we may design a beautiful stair, a grand entrance and an intricate skylight. However, if we’re designing a movie theatre this may not be the right fit. Focus on the problem at hand and once you’ve gotten to the ‘why’ (golden circle) then you can design your design process.

6. WHATEVER YOU HAVE WHEN YOU PRESENT YOUR IDEAS IS EXACTLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT.

Design is never finished. We all wish for just one more hour to add this diagram or that research or do more usability testing. However, when you walk into a client meeting whatever you have is exactly the right amount. Present with confidence and never, ever apologize.

7. DESIGN IS POETRY, IT WILL HAPPEN AS YOU CREATE.

Be inspired by things around you. You may look at 100 websites a day, but I also encourage you to walk around and notice how spaces make you feel because all of these things and experiences influence the way we design. We should be taking in everything that affects people.


Shoutout to Matthew Frederick, author of 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School for reminding me how much overlap there is between architecture and UX Design and inspiring many of the ideas in this article.