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4 years ago

The Round Walls of UX

We moved to the new office about 3 months ago. With the office moves, it's usually very uncomfortable to break away from the cozy nest in the familiar space and trade it for the uncertainty of a new office. But then it's getting better, one good thing pulls another good thing, and you like the new environment more and more.

My starting "like" point about the new office were the circular-shaped walls. They reminded me of the medieval castles romanticism, and that was enough for a start. Then I discovered that the round walls are not only about the ethereal romanticism. They have some practical purpose, and they do hold a harmonious creative space. It feels much better working in the rounded space than in the rectangular one. Try it some day, if you get a chance, and you'll see what I mean.

What is it about those round walls that makes them that special, anyway? In spring, when we just moved in, the sun was moving along the lower ecliptic, and the first spring rays were more welcomed, than hated, because everyone likes the warmth of the sun after cold winters.  Then, closer to summer, the sun's trajectory in the sky got higher, and the circular shape of the building made it harder for the scorching heat to get inside. I'm not sure if the architects were aware of the feng shui guiding principle that the circular wall shapes are more harmonious for the well-being and creative energy than the rectangular walls, but there's one thing I know for sure. The architects must have had some hard times reconciling their vision with the construction team, as in terms of construction, it's harder to build a circular-shaped high tower. Construction guys generally do not like the round shapes. They hate them. If you tell a construction engineer that he would have to deal with anything circular (I remember the sour face of the guy who did the renovations for my apartment when he saw the rounded corners :), it means you give them more headache, and they will try to avoid this headache by all means. They're looking at construction projects not with the eyes of people who are supposed to feel good working or living in this environment. Construction engineers focus on the pains this will bring in to their work. Like, how do they implement the supports, how do they have them stabilized in place, etc.

If you've been involved in designing and/or implementing a software system, you might have had a similar experience. Software developers switch to this engineering-only mode as they get absorbed in their technical meetings and forget that the prerogative (at least, the high-level prerogative before even discussing the duration and costs of the implementation) is the joy of experience and uninterrupted flow when using the software.

Here's an example: database-related decisions. It's very annoying  for users to experience the delayed load times, but there can be some intrinsic reasons that make developers ignore this inconvenience. Well, the difference is obvious. Software systems generally do not have such long lives as buildings. Stakeholders have to weigh the odds of spending more time to optimize database load times with their considerations for the future. Meaning, what if they have in mind the newer and the better version of the same system? It makes no sense then to hone the old system that would be sunset soon. But we still need to keep the awareness, as we engineer software solutions, that software systems are for people. It does take some decision-making skills to find the balance between the human-related part and the programming-related part, and it's not even about the usual programmers vs. designers holy war.

For any system you're developing, or designing, keep in mind the round walls of UX. Your solution needs to accommodate them, because if people like a building, or a software system, they will be delighted to spend more of their time with it (or in it). Yes, the development costs might be higher, and it might take more time. But if people like what you've done for them, if they feel comfortable and harmonious in the figurative round walls feng shui of your software , they're more likely to become your devoted customers and bring along still more.



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