Architects, stop everything and pursue a career in UX

Originally published on Medium & Arch Daily.

As an architect turned UX designer I have many strong opinions about my former and current profession. But in short, I am now enjoying the greener pastures I expected while studying architecture that the profession didn’t provide.

  Corb jaw-dropped.

 

Corb jaw-dropped.

Many like-minded architects ask me when and why I decided to transition into software. This puts me in the dubious position of praising the initial skill-set achieved by studying architecture, while promoting departure from it. That said, I have a very abstract definition of architecture, and believe if you have the interest to pursue any other design discipline, you’ll be successful. This guide is intended for those driven and curious architects looking for a change.

Is this right for you?

Your current work fulfills you creatively, financially, and socially.

You’re already Principal of a successful growing firm.

You’re averse of change.

You simply don’t have any interest to change career paths.

You prefer a slower growing career.

Your definition of Architecture is designing “buildings” and nothing else.

If any of that sounds like you, then thanks for reading but you can stop here. If not, then you should consider a career in software as a UX designer.

Frank thinking about drones.

Frank thinking about drones.

When should you transition?

My career as a professional architect was missing three things that I believe are critical to an exceptional creative career. However contentious, when you believe you’re missing the same, you should jump.

My career was missing speed, iteration, and measurement.

 

1. Speed

Buildings and cities take a long time to design and construct. With a minimum build time of 2 years, we have incredibly slow design cycles. Product design can have design cycles of 2 weeks. Your building material is unlimited — you can build anything you want, being constrained only by ability and caffeine. Need I say more?

Another pro for increasing the frequency of design cycles is increasing your opportunity for creative brilliance. If the very nature of your career throttles your creative production, then you are at a distinct disadvantage.

 

2. Iteration

The ability to iterate your design after it’s built gives you power over its success! If I were going to propose the same iteration and testing of new design ideas on a building after it was built, the owner would look at me like I had 5 heads. For very obvious reasons this doesn’t make sense to do, but it bothers me nonetheless. How do we learn? The result is being forced to iterate over a body of work, over the course of a career. The feedback loop is slow, expensive, and not guaranteed. Software requires very quick iteration.

 

3. Measurement

Having measurable goals gives you clear success metrics. In architecture, the main goal is to appease the client. While this still reigns true in product & UX design, you have a clear measurable goal in the form of a KPI or key performance indicator that you track. The closest equivalent in architecture is through simulation and measurement of building processes, power use, occupant surveys, etc. These are at the owners discretion and you aren’t held accountable for them. So how do you learn? How do you build a body of work over a career, shooting to improve each time, but never measuring the success of previous designs.

Aside from these three differences, software is simply a different medium of architecture. A medium that is eating the world. And in turn, shaping the world.

“Software is eating the world” — Marc Andreessen

As an architect, you have been trained to shape the world according to millennia of design discourse. Giving form to culture is a skill that calls on all the senses and requires a deep understanding of how people interact with their environment. By questioning the new environments created through software, we have the opportunity to shape our world through a different medium.

  Mies dropping the cigar.

 

Mies dropping the cigar.

 

Why should you transition?

If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, then you can probably see countless reasons to transition. Here are 8 reasons why you as an architect will make a great UX designer:

 

1. Your design process is identical

You understand to design anything properly, you must first understand the problem. What is the goal? What does success look like? Jumping into a drawing without identifying how success will be measured is art, not design. Defining program and understanding scenarios our occupants or users will encounter. Bringing in your client, engineers, and contractors early and often to invalidate or validate design choices. Iterating and developing design from conceptual to schematic to construction drawings and collaborating along the way. Instead of a drawing set of plans and sections, we create wireframes and prototypes.

 

2. Your team dynamic is identical.

Not only does the process follow the same structure, but so does the team and team dynamics required to build the design. Instead of Contractors and Engineers, you collaborate with Developers and Product Managers. As an architect you are the Owner advocate, ensuring that their best interests are met. As a UX designer, you are the User’s advocate, ensuring that their best interests are met. This is a familiar role, and a very important one.

 

3. You have a fresh (and relevant) perspective.

Yes it’s easy to say that anyone from any other profession will bring a fresh perspective; you’re right! What’s especially great about an architect’s perspective of UX is that it’s incredibly relevant. UX designers are digital architects and we can all learn from each other.

 

4. You’re technical.

Not just “I know lots of software” technical, but “I know how things go together” technical. You’re used to knowing the fundamentals of every superficial decision in design. Not only are you used to it, but you require it. Knowing enough to validate or invalidate a theory is critical to the design process.

 

5. Your ideas scale.

Architectural design intent ranges from the small detail of a door knob to the city block. You define a design language and understanding that can and should scale. Considering complexities of scale is inherent to design.

 

6. You tame the ambiguous.

Every project is different. The ability to form structured thinking from unstructured conditions is fundamental to the architect’s thinking.

Building a product that has the ability to scale infinitely and be used by anyone anywhere creates a design problem divorced from context as architect’s typically see it. Context becomes more about when and why someone would likely use this, not the adjacent building or climate (although that even depends on your product — designing a weather app?).

 

7. You design for people.

You have your client’s & occupants best interest at heart. As a UX designer, you have the user’s best interest at heart -which requires consistently hearing and understanding them.

 

8. You push innovation.

There’s an old stereotype that Architect’s design buildings that can’t stand up (from the Engineer’s perspective), and can’t be constructed (from the Contractor’s perspective). Navigating those relationships to build amazing places requires ingenuity and thick skin. It’s the same in software. You still need to work collaboratively to push innovation, defend design decisions, and try new things even when they’re uncomfortable for most people. It’s exciting!

 

How will you transition?

Everyone’s path is different, but if you’re curious about mine I’m writing about how I made the transition in a series of following posts.

Follow me and check back in soon! Also, visit my blog if you’re interested at www.gvnjhns.com.

Old Family Photos

Here's a great series of old family photos I found at our farmhouse. I like to think the first one had a caption kinda like this:

-Hay!

--What?

-Haaayyyyyy...


Biz reveals new SUPER design on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Biz reveals new SUPER design on CNBC's Squawk Alley

After several months of hardcore dev work, the SUPER team has unveiled their new app with some fun new features! I'm particularly psyched about the new "face" mention as opposed to the traditional @mention. And if you look closely you can see some of the design suggestions Scotty and I made as consultants! Great job SUPER team and I look forward to seeing more soon.

The design of my Architect's stamp.

The design of my Architect's stamp.

I knew when I was designing my stamp and nerding out over the typesetting that I made the right decision in my career shift to product and UX design from architecture. And for those who don't know, after an architect has finished their six years of education, three years of work experience, and passed eight exams - we are allowed to legally call ourselves an "Architect". With this comes a stamp for our drawing sets that making them legal documents.

Usually you just order a predesigned stamp from a dealer and that's the end of it. But this seemed unnatural to me. After all we're designers! We should design the thing! The design constraints are surprisingly open allowing for any graphic design embellishments as long as the required information is legible.

Knowing my interest had moved beyond the built environment into the digital I thought it would be fun to make the stamp personal to my journey as a designer. And if you're still reading it means you are interested in hearing how I went about designing it. Now sit back and let me wax poetic on the stamp that I will likely only use to build my own house one day.

 

[BEGINNING of waxing poetic]

 

My personal journey as a designer begins with studying architecture and urban design before transitioning to product and UX design. The three elements I wanted to include were to be icons representing:

  1. Digital Design
  2. Physical Design
  3. Projection Mapping

1. Digital Design Icon

Digital Design is represented by the app icon with rounded corners filled with a pixel inspired point-grid. The dotted line that connects all three icons connects in the center with a dot representing human computer interaction.

2. Physical Design Icon

Physical Design is represented on the right icon filled with a vertical line hatch inspired by light-frame structural members in buildings. The dotted line moves underneath this icon to represent the earth and horizon for the built environment.

3. Projection Mapping Icon

The projection mapping icon is inspired by Bucky Fuller's dymaxion projection and represents a map of the world. This icon has a double meaning as it links both the digital and the physical. The map represents cartography as the discipline of effectively communicating spatial information and data-visualization. It also represents the earth and the scale at which design thinking can expand beyond the pixel and the nail.

[END of waxing poetic]

 

I truly enjoyed conceptualizing these ideas and deciding what is most important to me as a designer. The iteration of the stamp moved through different ways in which to best effectively represent these ideals while maintaining a visual clarity and simplicity. The stamp must maintain an "official" heir while still displaying a newness and refined aesthetic.

 

Let me know what you think!

 

Diagram Posters

Visualizing complex information is difficult. Check out an early example of my foray into diagramming! These examples are narratives I generated in forming my critical position during my thesis as a grad student.

Portraits

Watching people drink water is surprisingly intimate. I found this old photo series I produced as a generative exploration for my grad thesis and thought I would share! 

100 Sketches

100 Sketches

100 Sketches in 2 days may or may not seem like a difficult thing to do, but I suggest you try the exercise either way. It will loosen up your hand and sharpen your eye! I noticed that the more mundane my subject, the more I felt compelled to breathe life into it.

Different pens encouraged different fidelity and speed. Thinner lines encouraged more time, thicker lines encouraged less. But playing with speed, contrast, value, line weight, patterns allowed me to really let loose and celebrate the objects I was capturing in unexpected ways!

Twitter's New Feature: Map

Twitter's New Feature: Map

What's This?!

I know, right? Twitter should totally have a map feature, so that's why I'm designing one. The first step in my persona to prototype mission is . . . you guessed it:  making a persona

 

Persona & Design Stories

Who's using this Twitter map, and what will they do with it? Sorry stalkers, this isn't for tracking down Ryan Goesling. This is for engaged citizens that care about what's happening around their neighborhood or anywhere on earth for that matter!  Meet Jenny. She is very active in her community, loves popup restaurants, and participates is flash mobs on the reg. I created a six-up for other design stories that Jenny could accomplish with Twitter Map, but am focusing on being able to "find events based on her location".

See What's Next section below for potential problems, solutions, and uses.

 

Task Flow

Taking direction from the Design Stories created above, we can now walk through a couple basic task flows.

 

Interface

How will we visualize the map? I performed a six-up for the map screen and came up with some fun ideas to work through at a high level.  From the "Number", "Text Box", and "Point Cloud" designs, I am able to refine each idea and choose a clear winner! (Well, technically I've chosen three, but we'll get to that in a bit) The "Number" visualization makes since as the main feature screen as I'm imagining the Trends are being ranked like Yelp (1 = most trends, 2 = second most, etc.) 

 

Wire Flows

Here are some basic wireframe task flows, or "wire flows" for short. Each flow is taken from part of our design stories above. They work within the existing task flows of the Twitter app. I'm especially excited about the "search" task flow! 

 

Wireframes

The "Map View" and "Trend Preview" screens are two of the only new screens added to the Twitter interface. As shown below, the Map view is located under the existing Timelines, after the "Activity" screen. To toggle between Map and List view, I've added two buttons on the bottom. Also, the search bar and "Find Me" button will allow people to peruse the globe while maintaining the ability to refocus on your exact location!

See Wire Flows for other Wireframes pertaining to other Task Flows.

 

What's Next?

Potential Problems    |    Potential Solutions

  1. Stalking Individuals   |   Only See "Trending" Tweets and not individuals. Trending defined by <5 tweets.
  2. Too Many Trends on the Block!   |   Only Top 20 Trends visible at one time, and changes based on zoom.
  3. Spamming Locations Remotely   |   "Dropping Pins" not allowed as it defeats the purpose of location based tweets.
  4. Starting a tweet in one place and finishing it in another   |   Tweets will be time stamped and Geo-tagged based on "Starting" location. Opportunity to finish and post tweet will expire after 10 minutes.

Potential Uses:

  1. Event Promotions
  2. Retail Sales & Specials Promotions
  3. Protesting
  4. Urban Gaming
  5. Emergency Notification
  6. Breaking News
  7. Any Location Based Communication

Please let me know if you have any other suggestions! I'm on to working toward "part two" of my Persona to Prototype mission!

Instacart: Usability Testing Lessons

Instacart: Usability Testing Lessons

How could we make Instacart any better? I hit the streets of San Francisco to figure that out this week in my Usability Testing campaign!

As you may know, Instacart allows us to order groceries and household items from a selection of local stores for delivery. Together with seven lucky strangers, I was able to gather very useful insights on how people are using the app.

Through analyzing common pain points for users, I have three recommendations that Instacart can implement fairly easily to enhance the user experience and increase sales.

  1. No one knew there was more than one store. Each store has a large banner with logo at the very top, but beginning with the store, Instacart Plus, is slightly misleading users to thinking it’s just the name of the app – not the store. By including indicators on the banner and the menu, the user immediately has a mental map that allows you to circulate through stores rather than assuming the items are collated from all available stores.
  2. It’s difficult to see that you’re browsing departments rather than items. There are 9 items above the fold which takes up the entire screen. If the number were reduced to 3 items above the fold, then you would be able to see more than one department on the screen at a time – producing a mental model that requires you “enter” the department to see all available items.
  3. During checkout, most people didn’t know you could “put things back” from your cart. There is a hidden ability to swipe left to delete the item. By providing an indicator the user knows that if needed, you can edit the item.

By implementing these first three “easy” fixes, we can continue to refine the great product that Instacart is building!

VIDEO: What is UX?

Jason Lim, Scott Valentine, and myself hit the streets of SF to find out what UX means to strangers! Here’s my working definition:

User Experience Design is the ability to make a product or environment that tells a story with clarity. The ideal user experience has three elements: it is reliable, useful, and delightful.

What does it mean to you?

TILL: Things I Like List

Here is a living list which I will update regularly; I call it the Things I like List or TILL:

 

Companies I Admire

  1. Uber – I love the marriage of utility and sex appeal that defines Uber. Including the recent fiasco, I believe there’s a lot to learn from the Uber experience and look forward to seeing how the company evolves.
  2. Google – I am constantly impressed by this company. The brilliant companies acquired and R+D produced by Google just highlight that it’s one of the best sustained innovators out there!
  3. Nest – “Why is my thermostat so dumb and ugly?” I love that kind of thinking (no offense dumb and ugly thermostats), because it prompts the next question, “Why is _____ in my house, neighborhood, city, country, world so dumb and ugly?” I look forward to seeing the types of problems Nest will continue to tackle in the future.

 

Digital Products I Use (A Lot)

  1. Google Maps – I can’t imagine my life without Google Maps. It grounds me and gives me the peace of mind that I’ll always be able to find anything or traverse any way finding situation. (Bike Route is crucial to my personal sanity getting around all these hills in SF)
  2. Instagram (mobile) – Despite many attempts to not waste time on Instagram, it still remains in my daily repertoire of digital experiences. I love seeing what my friends are up to and get a kick out of how people use it.
  3. Spotify – Recently I have given up the idea of “owning” music. I love the freedom that Spotify gives me from desktop to mobile interactions, and gives me everything I could want despite my love for Taylor Swift…
  4. USAA (mobile) – The ability to access everything I need while I’m banking wherever I am is indispensable. I use the Deposit Check functionality a ton! (well, not as often as I’d like)
  5. Sunrise (mobile) – I use Gmail and Google Calendar and this app is by far the best at visualizing my Google calendar on my phone. It allows a weekly, monthly, and list viewing!
  6. Gmail – Essential to my existence. I use it over the web and the app as well – I find that there are fewer taps that I need to endure compared to Apple Mail which makes a huge difference in my usability. My thumbs get tired yo!

 

Digital Products I Admire

  1. Amazon – If I had more money I would use this everyday. It is literally easier for me to pick up my phone and buy an item while I’m already in a store than walk through the aisles, find the item, go to the cashier. WTF.
  2. Strava – As a competitive person, I love how Strava creates a competitive social exercise experience. It’s fun and beautiful to boot!
  3. Square – Mind = Blown, when I first used Square to send my friend money for Burger Night. And even though I haven’t used this feature yet – the “make it rain” functionality for Snapchat is just plain fun; and I like fun.

 

Ideas I Find Interesting

  1. Computer Vision – The ability to 3d map our environment is something that makes me so damn giddy. It is what I think is a perfect fusion of what I love about technology and spatial design. Whether it be scanning or projecting, it allows everything to be measured, unlimited perspectives, both in real-time or archiving. Imagine having a living 3d Model of the world starting today. What could we learn over the course of a week, a month, 20 years?
  2. Augmented Reality – The visible overlay of information and the real world. Filtering, projecting,
  3. Internet of Things – Optimize everything. Everything we have and do can benefit from optimizing any variation of economy, environmental impact, and social equity.
  4. 3D Printing & Mass Customization – A return to our natural state – the death of the author. Economies of scale are evolving to include variations rather than standardized molds. // Read The Alphabet and the Algorithm – Mario Carpo
  5. Hardware + Software – With the uprise of rapid-prototyping creating a lower barrier of entry for building physical products and hardware, I find myself very interested in tailoring hardware to software.
  6. Lean UX – Make Better Faster Products. By measuring, validating
  7. Lean Analytics – “Markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.” – Marc Andreesen. The art of measuring and analyzing what you’re doing is equally important as what you’re doing. The process should be deeply ingrained into what we do to maintain a sustainable life’s work!

Thoughts on: The Elements of User Experience

The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett provides a great conceptual framework for understanding what User Experience is, and how it is incorporated into successful businesses and products. Here are some thoughts on a few topics that I find interesting:

 

Context

The idea of context within the design of a User Experience is fascinating to me since I’m used to designing physical forms and spaces of a certain style situated in a certain place in a certain time. What does it mean then, to design something within context that is available to everyone at all times, everywhere? The rules to design are shifted from a place-based study of context to, an arguably more scientific, type-based study of context. Who are the users? When are they using it? How are they using it? Are they distracted? Are they focused? What do they expect? Is that what they really want?

 

Wayfinding

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to perform a specific task or find a certain thing while being lost or unable to focus. Although sometimes you want to get lost or explore, and this is arguably the more natural and helpful way to navigate a site. There is an old navigational concept of urban design which is the act of purposefully getting lost and navigating by intuition called the dérive. I believe that the dérive is the natural state for the digital landscape. And although the context of using a digital product is entirely different than getting lost in 1940’s Paris, I am convinced that appropriate way finding can take a few lessons from the concept. Jesse James Garrett outlines a few helpful techniques to allow both the dérive AND helpful navigation. He mentions that just as in parking garages, altering the color can help people realize they’re on a different “floor”, or if we are going to use the Parisian metaphor; by altering the style of the section, we can know if we’re in a different “arrondissement”! Another helpful tool would be to give the user a clear mental model “of where they are, where they can go, and which choices will get them closer to their objectives.”

 

Good Business 

The fact that “good user experience is good business” is great news to me! The fact that we can actually measure the effect of design decisions based on key performance indicators or metrics is a beautiful idea that is hard to institute if you don’t have a product or tools for constant feedback. For example, it’s very rare that after you design and construct a building for an owner that they want you to keep refining or making the building better over time. The benefits of fine-tuning something as expensive as a building (or host) are nominal compared to refining a product that is the actual thing you’re selling. By paying attention to return on investment and the associated metrics like conversion rate, we can create something useful and reliable to be repeated!

Beloved Experiences

What does an abandoned railroad, a wristwatch, and predictive technology have in common?

I love them all! Take a second to check out some of my most beloved experiences.