What Web Design learns from Architecture’s Design Thinking

August 5, 2020by Radhika ShivaprasadWeb1

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What Web Design learns from Architecture’s Design Thinking
Credit Image: Urban Redevelopment Authority

Singapore’s skyline is populated with iconic architecture. From the gleaming, futuristic Marina Bay Sands to Peranakan houses and the Art Deco style of Tiong Bahru, the diversity and beauty of Singapore’s buildings are just a couple more reasons locals should be proud of their amazing city. 

What is even more amazing than the buildings themselves is the role they play as homes: some for families, but most are homes for businesses, from hawker stalls to designer boutiques. 

What if I told you your website is a home for your business, just like a building would be? 

Inhabited Spaces

People inhabit buildings—not just in terms of living there, but in terms of spending time there. They probably won’t spend as much time in a shop that is narrowed, cluttered, or otherwise doesn’t follow the principles of feng shui. Think about a coffee shop like Starbucks: because of the calming ambiance, you’re more willing to spend a little extra on your coffee or buy a snack and sit there for a while, rather than getting your drink and leaving as soon as possible. The next time you want coffee, you’re also more likely to go back to Starbucks because of the atmosphere there. 

Starbucks Singapore
The ambiance in Starbucks is what makes their coffee worth it’s price.

In the same way, people inhabit digital space. A website is simply an online space that serves as a home and as a face for your business, just as a shop would. It’s important that when customers visit your website, they feel comfortable, welcomed, and compelled to stay, resulting in a higher conversion rate.  

Form Follows Function

Modernism is a style of architecture with the philosophy that buildings are pragmatic first, beautiful second. You may have heard the phrase “form ever follows function” before, a quote from the American Modernist Louis Sullivan. This Modernist-inspired philosophy can be seen in action in the Tiong Bahru flats, a prototype of the modern HDB. There, SIT architects modified Western designs to be functional in tropical weather. 

Tiong Bahru flat
Low-rise SIT apartment building in Tiong Bahru. Courtyards act as an air/light well and long and shallow separate blocks provide natural ventilation and light.

In a more general sense, a shop can be beautifully decorated on the outside, but if you can’t easily find the changing rooms or the cashier counter, you probably wouldn’t want to shop there again. For example, Suntec City is known for being very easy to get lost in, so you probably don’t want to go there if you have a specific errand to run. It doesn’t quickly and easily fulfill its pragmatic function for you as a consumer. 

A website’s top priority should also be its functionality. Your business’ website should have a clear user path with easy navigation to ensure a good user experience. Every detail should have a purpose.

Image Credit: A List Apart

It’s important to note that sometimes business objectives and customer objectives don’t line up exactly. Advertising space or making a user sign in before using a feature might help the business but seem frivolous to the customer—here’s our philosophy on how to compromise.

Maintenance

Buildings need constant maintenance. Floors need to be cleaned, walls need to be repainted, and lawns need to be weeded. Sometimes, they may even need to be renovated to keep up with the current trends. Shops with clearly old, chipped paint or overgrown lawns probably aren’t your favorite places to visit, since people tend to prefer clean, new looking buildings. In fact, Singapore’s real estate industry was recently overhauled as more and more people understand how crucial maintenance is to any building.

Image Credit: Homedit

Just as Marie Kondo-esque minimalism is in style now, flat design is the current trend in web design. In recent years, Google, iOS, and Windows have all completely overhauled their user interface. Buttons on web pages used to have intense drop shadows and shiny highlights to make them look like real buttons, but now most modern websites omit these unnecessary embellishments.

Apple’s transition to flat design
Apple’s transition to flat design

It’s important that your website keeps up with trends like flat design and beyond. Websites that look outdated and aged feel just as off-putting as unmaintained buildings to users—they won’t want to engage with your website as much and they’re less likely to be drawn to your brand. 

Empathy in Design

Many experts argue that empathy is what makes us human, so it’s no surprise that design thinking that involves empathy is what creates the most successful end projects. Architects employ the concept of human-centered design (HCD) to test the validity of ideas through the shoes of the future dweller. A great example of this in Singapore is Changi Airport, which has been named the best airport in the world for eight years in a row, since the designers created a more lounge-like environment to combat the stress associated with air travel. Similarly, the Jewel prioritizes easy-to-find human touch points to make sure visitors aren’t overwhelmed. 

Image Credit: Changi Airport

Empathy is essential to understanding what your consumer needs and wants from your website.

We’ve all visited websites that have left us as costumers feeling frustrated and helpless. As we explained in this article on Jetstar’s customer journey, this is often due to a lack of empathy in the website’s design.

Customer-centric design is about looking out from the inside — rather than outside in.

Kaan Turnali

In user interface design, it’s always important to question why a user would care about a new feature or experience.

This mindset will ultimately lead to a better user experience for your customer because they can tell that your business values them and their needs by putting them first. 

The emotional state of a user trying to book a flight on Jetstar Singapore

It’s also important not to overlook emotional responses to your website design. People observe and judge places just like they do other people: whether it’s rough or smooth, graceful or awkward, gloomy or bright. The architecture principles that evoke these emotional responses to buildings parallel the UX design principles that evoke them in websites. It’s important that your business’ online presence evokes the right kind of emotional reaction in your consumers, whether that be calm, energetic, cool, or something else. Positive feelings associated with your brand are what keep users coming back. 

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A website is a face your business presents to the world, just like a store would be. That’s why good UX design is so important—if your website is welcoming, pragmatic, well-maintained, and customer-centric, you’ll have a higher conversion rate.  Want the digital face of your business to be as good as it can be? Contact us for an honest consultation.

Radhika Shivaprasad

Intern at Pixel Tie, Radhika is a creative thinker and designer with a passion for learning. In her free time, she likes to paint, travel, read, and participate in beach cleanups.