Architect Kevin Deevey on the relationship between
architecture and UX design.
1.Why did you decide to provide user experience design as a service?
When I was in school, computers were just emerging as a tool for design. I ‘drank the Koolaid’ and was really fascinated by the potential of technology in the practice. So, you can probably say I was a very early adopter of CAD. I was also very interested in the Internet as it was emerging and quickly dabbled in early markup languages of the time.
The early part of my architectural career were difficult times in Canada and getting work was a challenge. I was looking around for other types of design work to pay the bills. I had an industrial design friend who was a UI designer for Corel, and he convinced me that I had the skills to do this type of work. That became a 15 year distraction as I set aside my architectural work for a career in high tech, eventually leading to my role as a design director for a significant technology company.
Eventually, I decided that working in a corporate environment was unfulfilling and I longed to return to my architectural practice. I spent several years doing less than interesting work. It dawned on me that my practice didn’t need to be a traditional architectural office and that it could be a hybrid.
Now, digital media design represents about 80% of my work, allowing me to be much more selective about my architectural projects. This isn’t to say that UX is simply a means to pay the bills, the work is challenging and constantly in flux. The core skills used in architecture and UX are basically the same, which surprises a lot of people. Fundamentally, representing a user in a ‘environment’; be it real or digital is no different. In many ways, I see what I do as the same as what Charles and Ray Eames did in the 50’s and 60’s. Where they focused on product, film and graphic design, my business is more digital.
2. As someone coming to UX from an architectural background, do you feel better suited to address the desirability of your UX clients than professionals from a solid tech background?
Firstly, it’s best to understand the typical makeup of the tech industry. The majority of contributors have an engineering mentality. They are very good at making things happen, but usually very poor at understanding how end users will actually interact with their products. For the most part, the engineering solution is not the best user solution. The tech industry has identified this handicap and moved very quickly to a ‘design thinking’ sensibility. Hence the emergence of the ‘user experience’ designer; essentially the ‘user advocate’ in the product deployment process. Interestingly, the best type of person for this role is a graduate of a professional design education program, often industrial design, and as it happens, architecture. The bulk of the work in this industry is about making your user comfortable in the digital environment, provide way finding and reassuring feedback as they navigate the system. Architects are amazingly well adapted to providing design guidance in this process.
3. How big is the ‘shed working’ trend, why has it become so popular, and how does it relate to your work in UX?
I don’t have a good view into the trend of shed working and most of my knowledge is gleaned from somewhat superficial media. My feeling is that the emergence of tele/remote work and more importantly the growth of entrepreneurship in the latest generation of workers means that more and more knowledge workers are working from their homes. Rife with distractions in their homes, and often graced with large suburban lots, many of these workers have looked to their ‘shed’ as ideal quiet, productive spaces. It certainly is a privileged experience ( having the extra space, wifi, and means to make it work), but also speaks to frugality, and the ‘startup’ mentality. Ideally the sheds will be outgrown as success forces the occupant to bigger spaces to accommodate clients and staff.
There isn’t any real correlation between my UX work and shed working, but interestingly, we can certainly point to the increasing importance of technology companies to the growth of telework.
My own interest in sheds was more architectural as I needed to explore the relationships of materials, form and loci. All my sheds have directly informed my larger work and I think the ties are obvious.