Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Archinect: Where did you study architecture?
I completed the three year masters program at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003.
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
After studying neuropsychology in college, I decided to take a break from academia. I thought I should explore the "real world" for a while before re-entering school for another decade, and began to look for a temporary career path. Browsing the job market led me to career-focused personality tests, and one word continued to appear in every test result: architecture.
I had never known an architect and didn't know anything about the field, but was intrigued by the possibility of combining my interest in science with my love of art and the creative process. Around this time I found a job at Holabird & Root and began working in their graphics and 3d modeling department. Within a few months I found a masters program at a local university, threw together a portfolio (which included mostly art and graphic design), applied, got in, and simply showed up on the first day of class.
Website for One Centralpark East, Phoenix, AZ: User Experience Design by Ania Kolak/Designkitchen
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
I'm not designing buildings anymore, so I wouldn't be considered an "architect" by most – but the tools, thought processes, skills, and abilities I use in my current job are the same ones used by architects. What I love to do and think about, what I'm interested in, have never changed though my career paths and job titles certainly have. The relationships among architecture, psychology, the scientific method, the creative process, designing an experience or website or brand identity correlate to distinct careers or professions, but have never felt quite so different to me. I decided to stop, or rather take a break from, designing and detailing buildings and interiors because my frustration with the profession began to override my passion for and love of it. Architects are at various times scientists, artists, technicians, graphic designers, 3d modelers, prototypers, project managers, engineers, builders, accountants, and psychologists – but they're not compensated accordingly and don't exist in a 48-hour-day parallel universe. Architects who are not workaholics, who wish to derive pleasure from life outside of the workplace, typically don't have the opportunity to create interesting or cutting-edge design. Clearly, the apprenticeship aspect of becoming and being an architect is valuable, but I'm not sure the workaholism is really helping anyone in the long term.
Motorola APXTM Portable Website: wireframe of homepage turns into...
...final design of the homepage
Describe your current profession.
My current job title is "user experience designer." Essentially, I plan the information and interactions on websites. What I do is called everything from "information architecture" to "interaction design" to "user experience design," and often includes brand strategy, content strategy, and some project management. Information architects typically have some degree of knowledge and understanding of all aspects of creating a website, including strategy, copywriting, design, and front end and back end development and integration.
Motorola APXTM Portable Website: wireframe of "APX in Action" page turns into...
...final design of the "APX in Action" page
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
I can't think of anything I learned as an architect that I haven't used in my current career. The experiences I had in architecture school and in practice will, I'm sure, continue to inform me for the rest of my life. Practicing architecture gave me the opportunity to practice patience and perseverance, to build the flexibility to focus to a miniscule level of detail and pull back to a much larger scale and back again, to learn that life in the "real world" is very much about planning and re-planning and starting all over again, to help others work together, and to learn to find balance in my life.
Motorola Long Term Evolution - LTE Website: site architecture chart of homepage turns into...
...wireframe of the homepage which then turns into...
...the final design of the homepage
Motorola Long Term Evolution - LTE Website: one of many flow charts to visualize the structure of the site's complex information architecture
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
I often miss designing buildings and spaces. I miss the accessibility, the import, and the joy of designing something that can so tangibly improve quality of life. I'm not sure that I would return to architecture as an exclusive form of design, but I definitely hope to incorporate it into my future in some other way.
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