On Games, Users' Journeys and Creating Remarkable Architecture

I tell ya...with today’s electronics, kids just won’t sit and play those “analog” games anymore. You know, like checkers or Battleship... ( Don’t worry - I promise this isn’t another rant against technology). Back in the ‘90s, while I was still in college, my eldest daughter and I loved to play checkers. She was still a young’un at the time, so I had the habit of “letting” her win. To do that, I would mentally play from her side of the board to help her see the winning moves. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing to the inside of my head…

My path to enlightenment

It was another late night in the ISU classroom where we did our studio work. For a break from the drawing boards and cardboard models, a classmate and I sat down to a friendly game of checkers. For the past several years, I'd only played against my daughter and always made sure she won. So my hopes weren't high that I'd stand a chance against a peer. I played against Todd ( not THAT Todd… a different Todd). To be honest, he was sleep-deprived – but so was I. That aside, Todd was, in all respects, my equal in all things. However, shortly into the game, I noticed something was up. I was anticipating every move Todd was going to make, countering it, and trouncing him. In just a few minutes, it was over. I had never played a game – any game – that I'd won by such a landslide. I think my goofy smile annoyed Todd, so he went home to get some sleep. He probably thought I was rubbing it in, but I was actually just amazed at my realization of what had happened.

The light comes on

I had stumbled upon one of the keys to successful design. An idea so hard to get to, unless you find it in your own way. My own random “ oblique strategy” ( more thoughts on that in a future post). I’d heard teachers talk about it, but I hadn’t grasped it at the time. To have a truly remarkable and successful design, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the future users. Take the “users’ journeys” through every aspect of the design. In my checkers example, I had spent so much time “playing from the other side of the board,” it had become ingrained in my head, and it put me at an advantage. Now to apply that to design… It is only in this way that you can anticipate, provide for and support the users’ needs. The famous copywriter, Robert Collier, spoke of how writing a good ad begins with “entering the conversation already taking place in your prospect’s mind.” That’s what a truly remarkable design must do. Whether it’s a house, a school, a hospital, a website design or a fundraising letter… …You must always consider who will be using, visiting, reading or experiencing your design, and then provide solutions to the concerns or answers to the questions they will have. To an extent, technology lets us do that with “click-of-a-button” walk through animations, and 3D renderings. But that only shows the result of the ideas and insights that got you there.

A day in the life

In the past, I worked with design teams to put their architectural design into words. It was all part of the proposal process for large Canadian hospital projects. One of the most challenging parts of that process was answering a requirement to illustrate and describe how various users (patients, family, staff, and volunteers) would experience the design. That section of the narrative was titled, “A Day in the Life.” To demonstrate this to the client, the design team had to think through the story of each individual… Why were they at the hospital? How did they get there? What did they see as they walked in the door? How did they figure out each next step? What were they feeling as they went through the process? Understanding these questions and ensuring the design answered them pushed a good initial design to a great design. It is a difficult, but worthwhile exercise to reach the final project goals.

Planning each step

As architects and designers, CMBA’s aim is to help guide you through the process and to provide a lasting design that will meet the needs of you, your users, and your community. As our client, you and your staff have the insights and experience of what has worked best for you and your users. Together, we work through the historical data, new technologies, current best practices and life safety requirements to design your building to meet everybody’s needs. Let us know if you have a project you’d like to discuss. We would love to hear from you.

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