What is Building UX?

Building User Experience (or UX for short) describes how people interact with buildings and the technology contained within them as tools that help them live, learn and work. This system driven (as opposed to silo or unit driven) approach brings some very unique challenges due to the number of service disciplines involved, but the potential rewards for all can be massive and highly sustainable, let’s explain…

Traditionally building services existed as islands. Construction companies and their M&E (Mechanical and Electrical) consultants would specify and instruct isolated systems to be installed into buildings with no integration between them (hint: complex systems integration, with a focus on people and not systems is hard).

This makes existing construction projects comparatively easy to slice up and manage; different contractors install their bit, there doesn’t have to be any coordination or cooperation between them (other than making sure they don’t get in each other’s way as they try and find somewhere to install their particular piece of kit in a spare, non-coordinated space in the equipment rack!) and they each support their own system over the longer term. This is a challenge in maintaining a level of service for people using and operating the building – rather than one supplier managing the whole estate in a joined up way, multiple trades have to be instructed to do their works separately rather than tackling a number of issues at once in a coordinated fashion.

As the price of energy continues to rise, we’re always trying to conserve it yet we currently endure massive inefficiencies in building systems that are completely unaware of each other. Moving through any city you will see entire buildings lit up with no one inside and they are probably being heated or cooled at the same time too, consuming significant amounts of completely wasted energy.

An access control system knows when there isn’t anyone in the building and we can verify this using simple (and cheap!) motion sensors throughout the building. In an integrated world, as the last person leaves the building, it goes into standby mode, consuming significantly less power and is only powered up again once motion is detected or someone swipes into the building. And even then, power is supplied only to the area in which it’s required rather than reconstructing Blackpool Illuminations!

There are numerous other examples of this wastage and inefficiency within buildings however, in our experience, just attempting to conserve energy often leads to frustration for the people who use the building. Everyone has been sat in a room or even a toilet where if you’re not doing star jumps every 30 seconds, you’re sat in the dark.

This is where people’s experience is critical, it has to be designed and executed in a joined up and cohesive way. Smart & Intelligent buildings are currently viewed by some as boxes stuffed full of technology and the latest gadgets. The approach we must take is to work collaboratively with the people who use the building to define the problems we’re trying to solve, rather than starting with system specifications. Once the experience is defined, we can use fully integrated technology to effectively deliver, manage and optimise it over time.

No one buys a new mobile phone and looks for the manual to tell them how to use it. Smart buildings and spaces should be no different, technology installed into buildings should be there to support people in what they are doing, not get in their way.

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