6 Design Lessons You Can Learn From Architecture

Every medium has its architect. When we talk about brick and mortar it’s an architect, when the medium is film, it’s a director and for printed media it’s the editor in chief. For interactive media, I believe the architect is the interaction designer. With that belief, I try to get inspired by architecture in my work as an interaction designer. So when I stumbled upon “101 Things I learned in Architecture School” by Matthew Frederick I immediately bought it.

Lesson #1

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city play” – Eliel Saarinen

Basically this means respect context and don’t design the page, design the experience.

Lesson #2

“Manage your ego.”

Something that I think many architects are notoriously bad in. Interaction design is not as established as architecture. Ask 10 people what you need if you want to build a house and then ask 10 people what you need if you want to build a mobile app. However, this is changing rapidly, interaction design is becoming more of an established authority. Authority and arrogance are close together. An arrogant interaction designer is about as useful as an empty battery. So it is becoming more important to manage our own ego.

Lesson #3

“Two points of view on architecture: Architecture is an exercise in truth, Architecture is an exercise in narrative”

As architecture is one of the oldest design fields there is, it is interesting that different architects see their work differently. I see a lot of talks on conferences where people talk about the way they see interaction design. Examples: Form follows function or Function follows emotion. Interaction design is an art, interaction design is a craft.
If even architects still disagree about the way they see their own work, then I don’t see interaction design ever coming to one point of view, perhaps we should stop seeking for it.

Lesson #4

“True architectural style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely – even accidentally – out of a holistic process.”

Replace architectural with design and this becomes a design rule.

Lesson #5


Basically design something bigger than is needed, in the process things that were not anticipated on always get added. We should do this more, I feel that many interaction designers put their best effort in keeping stuff out of their design. We should also expect the unexpected.

Lesson #6.

“Figure-ground theory states that the space that results from placing figures should be considered as carefully as the figures themselves.”

Now this sounds very intellectual, but it did make me remember to think of the gestalt principles. This lesson means that your mind will always try to perceive a figure, either by what is there, or what is not.

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