As newbies of the user interface/user experience (UI/UX) world, a lot of my friends and I are noticing that us “Archies,” or ex-architects, are surrounded by other “Archies” coming in HOT in the UI/UX industry.
At first, a sense of relief came over us over making the switch that can change the course of our lives. “Thank GOD we are not alone in this” – if other architects and individuals of similar backgrounds are doing the same thing, perhaps we are not being crazy.
However, the more Archies turned UI/UX designers we’ve encountered, it got us thinking: “HOLY COW! There are a lot of us Archies making the switch… There definitely has to be a problem!”
P.S. — There is also a decline in architecture school enrollment by roughly 6-7% between the last decade1, does this mean that more and more young professionals are catching on? What does this mean for the architecture industry?
Architects (“Archies”) are Fleeing to UI/UX like Flocks of Birds!
On that note, a HUGE problem (perhaps feeling, really) endured by past, current and potential future architects is the lack of value. The meaning of value in this case is the idea of being needed, having the work respected and fairly compensated and perhaps having more opportunity to see how we have helped people! Not feeling valued makes it hard to keep the motivation, passion and confidence needed to flourish in the field, alive.
Why are More and More Architects Changing Careers?
1. Archies Need to Feel Needed!
There is a saying that goes around in the construction industry that “engineers can do the jobs of the architects but ugly.” It’s funny a lot of us architects laugh about it and we give off the typical architect-GOD-like attitude of “Oh yeah, without us – the world would be hideous.”
However, when we really take a moment to think about it, isn’t it true? The profession of an architect is being slowly chiseled away by engineers, real estate professionals and admittedly Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) bots. In many projects to save money, architects are barely even hired! (Really means priority is not there nor given).
Why spend extra money when you already have an engineer that can take care of the construction/erection of the building and a real estate professional that knows what is HOT/bring back the largest return? It gets a little confusing to determine what the exact role of an architect is and where we sit in this process. It’s not even the fear of our profession being replaced by “bots” (that is the fear in a lot of industries) but the fear of us being weaseled out by current professions that somehow developed new Archie super powers!
2. Fair Wages! Fair Hours!
A typical architect works around 50 hours a week, getting paid around 80K per year (this is already one of the best case scenarios) – and let’s not even mention the gender pay gap in this industry2. The most honest thing anyone can tell you about becoming an architect (I wish architectural education was more blunt) is that – money is not what drives architects, it’s truly passion.
Being an Archie (unless you become a “star-chitect”) is not for wanting to retire early or taking your family on multiple vacations – definitely not for the faint of heart. Pure passion, dedication and strength of will is what puts Archies through 6-7 years of rigorous architecture training (B.Arch + M.Arch for accreditation) and an additional how many years to complete 7 different exams for licensure.
Tell me why after tens of thousands of dollars and over 5000+ of intense, sleepless and (most times) cruel hours from school, the real-life industry somehow doesn’t seem better? Well, unless you crawled your way to principal after 20+ years in the industry (with a life expectancy half of that) … but who wants to wait that long?
3. We do it for the People! But Why don’t We Interact with Them?
I’d say another gap in the architectural discipline (that perhaps leads a lot of us designers to UI/UX) is the lack of connectivity between design and people. Before the money, fame or even cool projects – architects came into the field to utilize their love for design to help and improve the quality of life for the people. How come most architects barely even meet their clients? How can someone stay ignited with fuel and passion, when they don’t even know who they are designing for?
It always stuns us on how we don’t really conduct user studies for the people, when we are pretty much designing their environment, livelihood and what they interact with every single day. Due to societal / economic factors, architecture at times seems to be less and less about the people but more about money, capitalism and profit – and this is not what we signed up for.
Is UI/UX an Architect’s Savior?
UI/UX has become a bridge for us Archies; a lot of our capabilities, processes and approaches are pretty similar and transferable – this makes the transition process much more attainable and quick. Additionally, many of us find ourselves more fulfilled in the industry, as it seems to have what architecture lacked – the user.
The transition is pretty crazy at first, especially pivoting from physical spaces to the digital and re-orienting with the programs that come with it. However, the evolving technologies and design tools paired with user-centric approaches is exciting. Especially at companies like 3BX, where accessibility and inclusivity through an artist-driven platform is prioritized – this brings on a new design dimension that has not been explored enough through architecture; social media. Archies all alike are excited to take on these new explorations and collaborative experiences – we hope we can bring a new perspective and ideas to the table.
Forever Love with Architecture, HELLO New Love of UI/UX
Most of us Archies transitioning into UI/UX are two-timers – architecture has and will always have a special place in our hearts. Without our architecture background, skill sets and knowledge, we would’ve never been prepared for the UI/UX world. I and I’m sure many others will always be thankful for our architectural education and experiences, even with its ups and downs.
We hope the architect firms continue to fight on what is lacking and more importantly what we deserve – this is still an exciting industry with a lot of potential to blossom. However, it is completely understandable that UI/UX is what we need at the moment – what will fulfill and give us the motivation we need to keep our love for design ignited. Architecture will always be part of our lives and part of the reason why we’re designers. Hopefully if the state of the industry permits, perhaps we will find each other again in the future?
- The Looming Architecture School Enrollment Crisis. (n.d.). https://www.architectmagazine.com/practice/the-looming-architecture-school-enrollment-crisis_o
- Nat Barker | 6 April 2023 Leave a comment. (2023, April 11). Gender pay gap worsens at biggest UK Architecture Studios. Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2023/04/06/gender-pay-gap-worsens-uk-architecture/#:~:text=Earnings%20disparity%20between%20men%20and,related%20organisations%20for%202021%2F22.
About the Author
Raised from Toronto, Canada, Tracy Meng is a recent graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, with a background in architecture; she is excited to utilize those fundamentals in the UI/UX field. She is passionate about user driven design, projects that can better facilitate people’s changing needs and how important it is to integrate the end user in every project. She is currently a product designer at 3BX, which helps her hone her skills and knowledge in the product world.