I used to sign-off emails addressed to my friends and family with ‘Take care,’. I used to think it was too personal for wider use, but now I put it on almost every email I send. I #stayhome to ‘take care’ of my friends, family, strangers, and our health system. I ‘take care’ of myself to make sure I can keep ‘taking care’ and I ‘take care’ in my studies. I ‘take care’ in design.
That last care is where power lies for architecture. Design is a power – underestimated by designers and ignored or exploited by others. Our collective failure to recognise the extents of the power we yield as designers has ‘hollowed out’ architectural culture (to reference sentiment from Steven Holl). I’m guilty of this – it’s easy to settle into a nice design job, collect a paycheck and go home. I worked with the sales and marketing teams to create designs and digital products that would make a company’s customer spend more money. By typical career success measures, I was pretty good at it. Ultimately however, the success was, well, hollow.
Care in architectural design has many pressures, from every angle at every stage. It’s easy to abandon it in favour of economic or time pressure; or if it gets too hard or too emotional to keep going; or if it makes things too complicated. But persevering and maintaining a level of care in design is where the power hides. Architecture and designs created and constructed with care continue to deliver sublime experiences long after the project is completed. They are timeless, even as time changes.
A UX approach identifies the intended experience first, then function, then economics and construction — form is a by-product in this kind of architecture, but by no means de-prioritised or ignored. It is powerful sequencing, and easily taken over by anyone with an agenda. If the project aims to confuse and rob, then the function can be immersive and maze-like, constructed securely and implemented cheaply. If it aims to connect and support, the function can be unobtrusive and encouraging, while also constructed securely and implemented cheaply. The difference is intention, and the ability to research and defend the care taken throughout the process.
UX architecture is focused on care and intention, backed up by research and a set of skills new and old to support the communication of design processes. Good communication is essential to good design, and care must be taken to make it happen.
‘Design Is One of the Most Powerful Forces in Our Lives’, Steven Heller, The Atlantic, 13 March 2014