Why UX Design Is A Perfect Career For Architects

It’s easy to see why many people have found architecture to UX/UI design (aka product design) a natural, and relatively seamless, career transition. Find out m…

Alexa Harrison
Alexa Harrison
Oct 9, 2019
Min Read

Think of UX design as digital architecture, and it’s easy to see why many people have found architecture to UX/UI design (aka product design) a natural, and relatively seamless, career transition.

Many former architects have enrolled in our UX Academy career accelerator in the past few years. Bringing that set of skills into the course has allowed many of those students to bring a fresh and insightful perspective to coursemates in their cohort, and accelerated their own UX design learning.

Read on for just a few of the reasons why UX design can be a perfect career switch for architects in search of a change!

1. The design process is similar

Architects know that, in order to design anything properly, you must first understand the problem. The same goes for UX design. The design process for both begins with research. This involves identifying project goals and limitations, clarifying what success looks like, and understanding key scenarios that the humans you’re designing for will encounter. 

Here’s one example of a typical UX design process, you’ll notice it’s very similar to the architecture design process:

  • Empathize with users by conducting research about your audience
  • Define the problem through identifying users’ needs and wants
  • Ideate by developing several ideas for your design
  • Prototype through turning your ideas into physical examples
  • Test your design by sharing with others for feedback

Bonus Resource

Curious about what the UX design process looks like? Read The UX Design Process: What It Is And What It Isn’t.

Architecture to UX Design

2. There’s a similar team dynamic

You likely already know how to bring together the right team members to evaluate and plan the final product. You have the project management skill-set needed to wrangle contractors and engineers—only now, you’ll do it with developers and product managers.

In both roles, you are the design captain juggling the needs of the client with the needs of the humans you’re designing for.

3. You’re designing for people

As an architect, you designed with a human-first mindset, and as a UX designer, you’ll do the same. While the term doesn’t get used as much in the architecture industry, design thinking—in which organizations lead with a focus on the humans they're creating for—is applicable across all industries.

Architects are experts at understanding how people interact with their environment, making them ideally suited for careers in UX design. As a UX designer you are a part of designing a new frontier within the digital world: one in which humans have absolute control over the elements, making the opportunities for user delight endless.

Bonus Resource

To learn more about design thinking, check out Great Design Thinkers: Tim Brown on Design Thinking.

4. Clear measurement goals

Measurement goals in architecture can be very ambiguous since the only real measure of success is how happy your client is. With UX design, there are more concrete goals in the form of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Some examples of UX design KPIs include:

  • Time-on-task
  • User error rate
  • App ratings
  • System usability scale
  • Net promoter score

Having clearly defined KPIs allows you to track your progress from project to project--resulting in a body of work that shows iteration and improvement over time.

Architecture to UX Design

5. Iterate your way to perfection

One of the most exciting aspects of architecture is building something that will last decades or longer—your work can truly outlive you.

But with that power comes a lot of pressure for things to be perfect. Once a family moves into their new home, it won’t be easy to make big architectural changes, and any revisions you do make can be expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating for clients and architects alike. The feedback loop is slow, if it exists at all, and it’s not always possible to test ideas before sinking money into construction.

Product design thrives off a cycle of iteration: if you design and test a food delivery app idea only to find that users can’t figure out how to place an order–that’s okay! You can identify failure points and iterate to a solution. Failure is a natural part of the design process, and no one expects a product to be perfect the first go around.

Bonus Resource

Iteration is a critical step in the design process, just ask our design intern, Annie. Read How Feedback And Iteration Can Improve Your Design Work to learn more.

6. You can work faster, and see rapid results

There’s no shortage of hoops you need to jump through in order to get a building made. Depending on what kind of architecture you’re working in, you’ll need to contend with zoning, codes, permits, and rolls of bureaucratic red tape. 

It can take years to get even one single family house built, and large-scale commercial projects can even take decades. As a result, you might not get to see the results of your work for a very long time, if ever. It’s easy to feel disconnected from your work when you rarely get a chance to interact with the final product.

In product design, the cycle of work is much faster. You can go from whiteboarding a problem and brainstorming solutions to having a working prototype in your hand in as short as a number of days. You’re limited only by your own drive—and access to coffee!

Students in our UX Academy course complete their capstones in a manner of weeks–this is how you’ll learn to design quickly, while still making decisions that are based in user research.

Architecture to UX Design

7. There are more opportunities for more people

In many ways, architecture still struggles to provide women with equal opportunity. While women account for about 50% of architecture school graduates, they make up only “20% of licensed architects and 17% of partners or principals in architecture firms.”

A recent survey by the architecture magazine Dezeen found that only 3 of the top 100 biggest architecture firms are headed by women, and only two of the firms have management teams that are at least 50% women. The survey also noted that women occupy only 10% of the most senior positions at these firms, and that 16 firms had no women in senior positions.

Statistics around diversity in architecture are hard to pin down, but the available numbers are dismal: The American Prospect reports that only about 1 or 2 percent of licensed architects are people of color, and .03 percent of architects are black women. 

It’s impossible to identify a single reason for the homogeneity of the field, but chief among them are the exorbitant costs and time commitments required to become an architect, as well as the bureaucratic, hierarchical nature of architecture firms.

While the tech industry has its own issues with gender and racial representation, product design is a field much more open to diverse voices and new opinions. Because a product must work for all different kinds of users, unique perspectives and differing points-of-view are a key part of the design process. 

The barriers of entry into the UX design profession are much lower, creating a more diverse workforce: with online courses, you can become a product designer in as little as 4 months, and for a cost much lower than going back to school.

8. You already have many of the key skills

Architects are already used to thinking about how users should interact with physical spaces, and the same thought process applies to digital spaces as well. Instead of thinking how a museum visitor might be able to navigate from one exhibit to the next, you’ll think about how an app can help visitors learn more about each exhibit and book a guided tour. 

Both processes involve research, sketching, identifying needs, and designing a solution. In all situations, you’ll need to consider accessibility, constraints, and scope. They’re really not so different, after all.

Bonus Resource

Not sure if you have the skills? Read 10 Essential Skills for UX Designers to see for yourself.

Don’t think of transitioning careers as starting over. While any career switch can feel intimidating, architects are perfectly positioned to become UX designers thanks to the similarity in education, skill-sets, and experience required for both fields.

For more on this theme, check out How to Leverage Your Experience for a Career Switch to UX Design.

If you’re ready to make the jump from a career in architecture to a career in UX design, sign up to receive our UX Academy syllabus

Illustrations by Annie Devine

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.

Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.