Architecture is a complicated field. On the one hand, there is a tremendous amount of creative ambition. There is a culture and need of artistic creation among architects, coupled with the prestige the title is associated with. We want to build beautiful and functional buildings and improve our society.
On the other hand, the professional environment is a frustration. I’m based in Germany, where the adoption of modern CAD methodologies such as BIM (Building Information Modelling, basically making your entire building design 3d and labelling each piece — doors, walls, floors — with information) has been arduously slow. Germany is bureaucratic, and filled with “that’s how we’ve always done it” evangelists, leading to having to print hundreds, thousands of plans and pages for meetings, planning permissions, and various other types of documentation. Architecture has not kept up with modern technological advances — which has crippled the modern architect. The work is not efficient enough, not fast enough, and architects are simply not informed enough about cost, scheduling, controlling to make their field financially viable.
On the third hand, there is the toxic Architecture Competition environment, often the only means of acquiring new work, where 5, 10, 50, or in one case 1,715 offices compete for a single project, submit months-worth of work, only to come in 2nd place and receive a minor financial compensation for their time invested. The work and manpower itself is wasted, and the physical models are cannibalized for the next competition.
What this amounts to is an overworked, underpaid (can’t make money off hopes and dreams), underappreciated machine which consistently pumps out work which feeds straight into a shredder. The Modern Architect. The project with 1,715 submissions by architects all over the world? It was rejected, and nothing was built.
Why would I change to UX? I love architecture, I really do. The essence of it. The technicality of it. Designing buildings for humans is what architects do. How people feel when they approach a building, interact with it, how people flow through it, the layout of each room, what does it mean for the built environment, how does it function, how does it sound, smell, feel? Why are some buildings so beautiful, functional and inviting while others are not? If this sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of these criteria are also within the domain of UX designers. For me it feels natural. While the medium and scale may be different, both architecture and UX are deeply about the human experience, which architects have considered since Vitruvius, who long ago established three laws of good architecture: firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality) and venustas (beauty).
It may seem basic, but we forget that while architects provide a service, tech companies create a product. A digital product can be resold instantly and globally, a building cannot. This financial and global flexibility allows higher margins of profitability, which in turn allow for employers to provide a higher quality of life to their employees. I mention profitability because it affects Work/Life balance, which in its current state architecture cannot provide.
In 2016, the German magazine Spiegel listed Architect as one of the worst paying academic professions in Germany. Don’t forget, architecture takes 5–6 years of study, followed by 2 years of practice before they can be licensed. Architects are frustrated. Even in my immediate surroundings I’ve been asked by many fellow architects what UX is, why I’m changing and how they can too. These are individuals from various backgrounds, incredibly skilled and at different stages in their careers.
Architects are true problem-solvers and experts in the Design Thinking process, and their talents are sometimes wasted in the construction industry. In the new era of digitalisation, I believe architects are qualified to make an effective transition to Product, User Experience and User Interface design and would make a fine addition to any team. Many of the skills overlap, and I think you’ll find there are few professionals that spend so much time sketching and working out brilliant solutions to seemingly unsolvable tasks.
How to effectively transition is, of course, another story entirely.