Data-informed Architecture: Acquire data literacy and reap the rewards

The first parallel I’ve noticed between Architecture and UX design is human-centred design (HCD). While today’s definition of ‘HCD’ emerged from developments in the IT industry and grew into UX design over the last century, historically Architecture puts the human experience at the centre of a structure’s concept and purpose.

Photo by Kris Schulze from Pexels

This parallel is what I think is driving Architecture’s interest in UX design: designing the human experience requires an approach where research is an integrated part of the process. From this idea, I now have a question I can begin to answer: How can UX research and design be an integrated part of the design-build process in Architecture?

A lot of data comes out of UX research. Big data. In the AEC industry, what are architects doing with this data? Are they collecting it themselves and analysing it? Is it being delivered to them through industry research? Are they even getting it all, and just making up designs based on their initial education, intuition and Pinterest?

I like to take a data-informed approach to my design process. As an architecture student, I approach my studio projects much like I used to approach designing an app interface as a UX designer: initial phases of my research define user personas, their tasks and their stories. Then, I’d create the design, mentally testing it against these personas and stories to create an optimal experience. All of this was continually informed and vetted by research, UX trends, technology, data, analytics, experience, stakeholders, and of course, the users.

Data-informed design (not data-driven design) is how I’d describe this approach today. It’s not new, nor is the idea of ‘data-informed architecture’, but that’s how UX seems to be framed in the discussions I’m having. I think that for architects to design this way today and in the future, architects need a degree of data literacy. But this isn’t ground-breaking stuff: surely, there are businesses that given this a go already?

This is not a photo of WeWork. Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

As it happens, there’s a few. In particular, WeWork. Irrespective of what happens in WeWork’s future, its initial rapid growth shows that prioritising humanity, community and positive architectural experiences is a smart business move: the world is ready (if not yearning) to receive architecture that responds to people and their humanity. WeWork recognised that UX research is a means to create that kind of architecture, and recruited a UX team to find out how. WeWork acquired architectural data literacy and reaped the rewards.

I’m starting this case study now. Feel free to follow along, as I’ll be updating as I go, rather than waiting til I have 2000 words or whatever it needs. Feel free, too, to send me anything you find relevant and interesting, or if you’ve got insights to add. In researching a case study of WeWork’s UX applications in Architecture, I hope we’ll contribute some insight on how integrating UX in an architectural business model can influence the success of a building and a company. I also hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll uncover a solution for another, less-pressing problem: sexier buzzwords than ‘data literacy’ and ‘data-informed’. But I guess that depends on what gets you going!

Further reading

Evidence Based Design Journal

WeWork Is Retraining a Generation of Architects to Think in Terms of Data, Anne Quito, Metropolis, 25 February 2019

Miguel McKelvey Is Reimagining The Workplace — How Design Fuels Human Connection, Rich Roll, The Rich Roll Podcast, 8 July 2019

Data-driven vs. data-informed design in enterprise products, Alastair Simpson, Designing Atlassian, Medium, 30 July 2015

Why WeWork UX won’t have a research team, Tomer Sharon, Medium, 1 December 2015