How architecture can inform UI design

It is said that all designers wished they were architects…or something like that. Over at the Percolate blog former architect Melissa Mandelbaum has written
Applying Architecture to Product Design: Lesson 1 in which she points out the architectural principle of circulation is pretty much the same thing as navigation in UI design. Mandelbaum writes:

“The circulation of buildings not only affects your perception of them, but also your usage and behavior within them. Continuing the apartment example, stairs would likely lead you to go home less frequently than you would if you had an elevator in the building. The presence of an elevator would likely lead you to carry home bigger, heavier items. The lesson learned is that we make a lot of choices based on available circulation systems.”

I think about the commonalities between virtual and physical spaces and the movement between them a lot. One of the big differences is that in virtual space we conceptually move around (as opposed to physically move around). So when a user moves we as designers need to change the conceptual space, so to speak, so that it’s clear they’ve changed “places”. Tabs for navigation often do this well, but sometimes they don’t work in cases like when someone wants to deep link within one tab to another.

And often times it’s enough to use copywriting to do the conceptual change, like when you change nouns and verb tense to suggest that something has happened. In this way UI elements are doing the same thing as physical elements of design…opening passageways, blocking people, suggesting routes, slowing and speeding people up, etc. It’s a never ending problem that I find fascinating. I’m looking forward to the other installments of Mandelbaum’s series.

Published: September 2nd, 2014