Architectural Design Usability For Everyone

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Image Credit: © batintherain | Flickr
Image Credit: © batintherain | Flickr

As an architect, is important for you to understand your occupants as more than just an “occupant load”, and really begin to understand the demographics of who will be using your building and why — and most importantly what do they want to achieve when within it. This is important because as new technologies surface, architecture is gaining greater ability to personalize itself to its occupants, in real-time — hence, the promises and challenges of adaptive architecture.


An article I read recently entitled User Interface Design for Beginners, Intermediates or Experts, explains how user interface design often caters to the “intermediate” user because of the simple fact that most users will fall within this category. This is because very few users are actually beginners and even fewer are experts. (As was explained in the article, the reason for this is that beginners very rarely stay beginners as they will soon advance to being intermediate users.) The article further explains that while it is still very important to meet the needs of experts and beginners, user interface designers should very heavily keep the intermediate users in mind as they design the bulk of an interface. (1)


So, what does this mean for adaptive architecture and its architectural design usability?


As a designer of interactive and adaptive space, how do you make decisions about where to personalize elements for occupants, while still making them collectively accessible? Furthermore, who should you target? Why? And when?


An Adaptive Classroom Design for Learners

Let’s discuss the example of the design of an adaptive classroom architecture. Should this design’s occupant experience cater to mostly intermediate, beginner or expert learners? If you are the designer in this example, you might ask yourself the following questions:


  1. How can I design a room that meets the needs of the beginners and gets them to advance? By possibly holding them to certain standards and rules established by the adaptive architectural system?
  2. But then, how can I design the classroom’s architectural adaptive system with certain freedom by which intermediates can become experts? And so that learning can happen at any pace?
  3. Finally, how can I make this classroom’s architectural adaptive system able to guide further learning for experts, so they don’t feel limited? (Certain limitations can arise if a system is too biased toward the beginners — with so many rules that experts can’t break free.)


As you can see, the architecture of an adaptive classroom is much more than a place where learning “just happens”, it is a place that can spark and guide that learning if designed well. For this reason, I encourage you to ask similar questions of your work. Consider what other demographic information you can use about your occupants. (Their ages, native-languages, genders and so on.) Also, such questions can be used for any building type.


The main idea is to really get to the core of your building’s mission. Then, use that mission to optimize that building’s functions by learning and designing for your occupants with greater inherent strategy that promotes both guidance and freedom for your architecture’s occupants.



(1)  User Interface Design for Beginners, Intermediates or Experts?

About the author

Maria Lorena Lehman

Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary artist, designer, and author focusing on links between environmental design, science, emerging technologies, and human potential. Lehman is founder of MLL Atelier, an art-based architectural design research practice. Maria Lorena Lehman is author of the award-winning book entitled, Adaptive Sensory Environments. She is recipient of the Harvard University Digital Design Prize for the "most creative use of digital media in relation to the design professions". Lehman also creates sculptures and paintings described as "visual poetry of motion that is a new inspiration" by Daniel Smith, the company that creates watercolors for artists worldwide. Maria Lorena Lehman holds the degrees of Master in Design with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture, Cum Laude, from Virginia Tech. She is internationally published and in numerous periodicals, including The Architect's Journal, Esquisses Magazine, Architect Magazine and Forbes.