Immersive Representation for User Experience Design in the Architecture Studio
Architecture is the art and science of designing structures and spaces to be inhabited. The term also describes the product of the design process in this practice, often buildings for human use. Consistently the backdrop for activities of human life, buildings are one of the foremost interfaces with which humans interact. Most commonly used in the context of human-computer interaction, the term interface generally refers to a point or a boundary that permits relations between independent systems. As an interface, architecture permits physical and social relations between spaces and people, and between people and people. Examples of these relations include those that occur between members of a household, between those inside and outside the household, and between members of a household and the spaces within a house. Decades of research in the design disciplines and the behavioral sciences have shown that the sum of effects felt by users during and after their interaction with an interface is inextricably linked to its design. As a result, it has become conventional in product design practice for designers to methodically consider and design for the optimal user experience of their product. Considering architecture as a monumental scale product, charges the architectural designer with the same responsibility.
In academia, architecture students are taught to design with acute consideration for both the objective and subjective qualities of the built environment. In this, Vitruvius’ three pillars of architecture are often invoked: firmitas (firmness or form), utilitas (utility or function) and venustas (the aesthetic quality). To express these qualities, architecture students rely on a system of representation that includes orthographic and perspective drawings, physical models, digital models, and renderings. This system not only enables students to present their designs to the stakeholders of a project, it also allows them to conduct research and make decisions in their design process. However, studies reveal that user experience as an explicit consideration remains elusive in students’ design process. This is due, in part, to the absence of explicit discourse about the concept of user experience in architecture, and the limits of traditional modes of representation for assisting students in designing the user experience of the built environment.
This study aims to build upon recent efforts to engage human centered design in the architectural design studio. First, it explores how architectural students currently consider user experience in the architecture studio. To do this, a survey study was conducted with students at a school of architecture. Participants included students at all levels at the university, and data was collected in the forms of an online questionnaire and interviews. Expected findings include little to no empirical consideration of user experience in the students’ design process. Following this, a comparative research study is conducted to explore how virtual reality can enable students to empirically consider the user experience of their design proposals. A web-based VR prototype is presented as an accessible mode of immersive representation, juxtaposed with architectural drawings and a physical model or a building proposal, in a comparative research study. The goal of the study is to examine how VR might enable students to consider the impacts of their design decisions on user experience, differently from conventional modes of representation. Expected findings include data on the viability and effectiveness of the prototype as a tool for students to engage with user experience in the design studio, and how VR can expand on the existing system of representation in architecture. The goal of this project is to contribute to providing architecture students with practical methods for inviting users into their design process and effectively considering the effect of their design decisions on users’ experience of the build environment. As cultures of design learn that inclusion and social sustainability are critical values in the success of products for human use, it is imperative that future architects learn to actively consider the implications of the design decisions on end-users, to ensure their architecture embodies these values.
Human-Centered Design, User Experience, Architectural Design, Architectural Education, Virtual Reality