Strangely enough, reading architectural case studies is like a breath of fresh air for me. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad discussing the constraints of a building site – his struggles reconciling the different stakeholders needs, the requirements of the building itself, and his personal desire to effectively balance the built space and the local ecosystem & context.
I’ve always wondered if this is part of why UX design was a natural fit for me. Architects know instinctively that no two buildings will be the same – even if the blueprints are direct copies. Every solution has its own context that imposes its own set of constraints. In Rowe’s first case study, the architect must balance the desires of the client with the reality of the physical properties of the building site. As Rowe says, the architect’s early ideas were, “…dictated in large measure by the size of the program of accommodations and the geometry of the site.”
Throughout the case study, words like “attempt”, “backtracking”, “evaluation”, and “exploration” all make multiple appearances. This reflects one of the ideas we just discussed in class – defining the problem and solving the problem happen simultaneously, with each effort informing the other. Early in a process, Rowe describes the space as “underconstrained and lacking a specific direction.”
I like the word underconstrained – it gives voice to an all too common problem. How do you overcome this obstacle and start developing constraints? Rowe says, “The apparent deadlock was addressed by systematically evaluating different aspects of the scheme….” The designer knew he didn’t have enough information to advance the process, so he or she went back to the beginning. In essence, a designer must engage in a dialogue with a problem and its constraints.
It is in the dialogue between problem framing and problem solution I think most of the excitement of design occurs. Through this dialogue, a fuller picture of a problem’s constraints is elucidated; thus, a fuller understanding of a problem’s solution is also achieved.
It seems that there are some strong similarities that can be found between UX and architectural design. However, I can’t help but think of Jeff’s challenge at the end of today’s class – to problematize the notion of “The Designer.” Architecture is probably more guilty than most design fields of encouraging the view of the designer as a lone genius. Perhaps HCI is ill-advised to look to architecture for reference and inspiration as we may be more likely to fall into similar patterns of thought and practice.