“An experimental prototype that is always in the state of becoming, a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people.” – Walt Disney, on The Disney World
Experiential design is immersive. It is a form of reality that puts the past, present and future into perspective. For centuries, designers, artists, architects and creative thinkers have been crafting stories or ‘experiential designs’ so that people can understand different realms of materiality, environment and perspectives. It was not until the information age that we finally found the proper tools for creating these experiences. Contrary to popular belief, UI/UX is not exactly a novel field and, the history dates back to 4000 BC, where we can find the earliest hints of User Experience Design in an ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui (translating literally, to wind and water) and refers to the spatial arrangements of objects, like furniture and tools, in relation to the flow of energy, or chi. In this sense, Feng Shui was the earliest hint at UX Design. Later, followed by the Greeks, the people who were everywhere from philosophy to the physical sciences and mathematics. There is strong evidence that as early as 500 BC, the Greeks designed their tools, workplaces and even domestic environments to the ergonomic principles that we know today.
From the thinkers of antiquity to Walt Disney in the 1950s (often hailed as the first UX Designer), the history of User Experience Design is rich. Better still, after the invention of the GUI (graphical user interface) in the 1980s, it has been steadily growing into an industry that encompasses everything from designing apps and websites to creating brands and marketing campaigns and crafting experiences for the end-user. UI/UX might probably be the discipline that we have always needed to tie all the different art domains into a single web that covers every aspect of our lives and environments, real and virtual.
Where do Architects fit in this web?
Architects can arguably be called the original designers, the first-ever in the long lines of esoteric disciplines that combine art with science. In the beginning, we used to be philosophers and thinkers guided by ancient mathematical principles and a set of ergonomic and aesthetic rules, creating the Greek temples of antiquity, the Roman War Halls of the great empire and the Christian churches of the crusaders. All this time, the de facto set of rules changed and evolved into an ever more disciplined art of creating built environments. Since architecture is one umbrella discipline covering almost every other design field, architects are now spearheading a new campaign with the growing technological capabilities of the 21st Century to include experiential designs under their domain. For centuries, architects have been concocting design philosophies about the future of their cities and how the world shall look in the coming decades. In other words, architects have been standing for centuries at the pedestal on which the statue of UI/UX was erected only recently.
What can be expected of them?
Being the original experience designers, architects already possess the desired skill set and perspective for better understanding the possibilities and importance of UX design. Architects have been indulging themselves in industrial design ever since the modern movement with schools like Bauhaus, which is unparalleled as the first progressive design school. Bauhaus architects and designers took on projects far ahead of their times, designing furniture, products and experience by their numerous exhibition setups throughout the early 20th-Century. It was a response to the need of designers to make better ergonomics for the world around them, to push the global consensus towards the ever-growing need to pay attention to other aspects of design. Architects and UX designers are experts at understanding how people interact with each other and their surroundings. In the case of architecture, users interact with physical spaces, whereas UX designers interact through the digital medium. It is arguably the most common thread between the two disciplines. What Bauhaus started in the 1920s, UX designers continued in the 1990s, and architects once again found themselves spearheading the neo-Bauhaus ideologies.
The Future is UI/UX + Architecture
A time when designing, branding, even marketing came under the supervision of the designers themselves. They have been the background noise where ideas emerged from but mostly excluded from the foreground. But, with the creation and subsequent development of the GUI, as the world becomes more virtual and less skeptical of the importance of technology, we might be heading towards a new order where there shall arise a need to design virtual worlds to appropriate our virtual identities. In such a scenario, can the importance of architects be overstated? Is it not pertinent to look forward to a new amalgamation of built and virtual environments? Architects are the forerunners when it comes to designing spaces for the end-user. And that is why we must prepare ourselves so that we can stand up to the ever-growing demand of creating better built virtual environments.
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- Tomás Franco, J. (2018). Architecture as Experiential Marketing. [Digital] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/888808/architecture-as-experiential-marketing-the-fascinating-hyundai-pavilion-designed-by-asif-khan-for-pyeongchang-2018/ [Accessed 20 Feb. 2022].
- Karisman (2021). Hereretopia. [Digital] Available at: https://images.adsttc.com/media/images/6078/4d18/f91c/81e8/9b00/044a/large_jpg/thumbnail_heteretopia_still.jpg?1618496782 [Accessed 20 Feb. 2022].