I am often struck by the strong connection between user experience and architecture and how closely architectural design relates to user experience design. Designing physical spaces in architecture translates to designing digital spaces in UX; thus plans convert to sitemaps and instead of experience through footsteps within these buildings, users move through digital spaces with mouse-pointers. I was amused to slowly recognize and find such interesting connections. How designing spaces in a particular manner affects the behavior of the user and how all this relates to designing digital experiences?
Having lived in Pune my entire life, I know the pain and trouble of clogged streets and narrow lanes where you can get stuck for a really long time. Impatient people cutting through lanes and breaking signals is a frequent sighting and it is oddly tough to cross a street. It is a task to get used to driving in the city and it is often said, ‘If you can drive like a pro in Pune, you can drive in any city’; a notorious image. It points towards a very core observation of how inappropriate design and unplanned growth affects human behavior.
When I traveled to Chandigarh with knowledge of the fact that it is a planned city, it still took me by surprise as to how user behavior drastically changes with a change in environment. I was greeted in Chandigarh with the first sight of a long stretch of road culminating into a circular island splitting the road into three 90 degree angles. It’s a delight to move through the wide roads of Chandigarh, crossing at perfectly banked intersections, aligned with lush green trees on both sides. I couldn’t help but think how organized the city traffic was and how people maneuvered within this design with ease. It might come as a surprise to people living in the developed countries, but a car driver stopping to give a pedestrian way to walk is a big deal in India. More often than not it’s a split second confusing decision for every Indian crossing a road, whether to cross or not, as a car slows down. When I was hesitantly crossing the road in Chandigarh, as a car suddenly stopped, it took me half a minute to realize he stopped to give me a chance to cross! An unusual behavior I am not normally accustomed to.
Chandigarh didn’t cease to surprise me. I visited a garden extending into a lakeside jogging track. It was a long stretch of clean and well-maintained track where people enjoyed the evening sunset alongside a clear lake. No one was littering and creating a disturbance within that setting and helped maintain the place well. These might seem like observations which are not very remarkable and yet when it comes to the planning of Indian cities this marks an astonishing behavioral difference when compared to other cities.
For me having lived in a city of chaos, traffic, and confusing behaviors, this was a pleasant experience. Chandigarh allowed me to see how city planning changed the behavior of people in a country which is usually somewhat chaotic, with little or no planning done when designing cities. In Chandigarh, people are offered a design that is easy to interpret, utilize and manage. When I dig into my references to architecture and try to connect them to user experience, I am often reminded of this city. It was entirely upon a design created 68 years ago to affect the behavior of generations living within it and how efficiently this behavior has become a natural part of the user’s movement. The design has almost seamlessly blended into the resident of this city. The goal of a good digital experience is essentially the same, designing an experience which is invisible yet effective. An experience that just does not appear as an action prompted evidently but rather becomes a part of natural behavior. An efficient design forms a part of our subconscious and thus becomes as natural as possible. Affecting human behavior and trying to direct it towards a certain direction is a challenge and with good planning, it can be achieved.