Stewart Brand: How Buildings Learn – Flow

Back in 1997 Stewart Brand – initiator and publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog – turned his book How Buildings Learn into a television series. Not surprisingly the book greatly inspired interaction designers and had its impact on human centered design in computing. (Apparently and sadly the impact on architecture wasn’t that big everywhere)

So now ditch your plans to watch some late-night show and watch the first part instead:

Key Takeaways

  • “Architects don’t want change in their buildings and so they make it as difficult as possible”
  • Architects are too focused on their art and and not enough on the users they build for
  • Architecture has a fixed and no growth mindset (“Never look back – it’s too discouraging”)
  • Good buildings allow to be changed by their user
  • Palazzo Publico in Sienna has grown over time. “Stop defying time – put time to work”
  • Evolutionary design is stronger than visionary design
  • Build buildings to allow improvement in small steps and every day (Kaizen in architecture)
  • Reality makes a new building necessarily unfinished. But time may perfect it by constantly adapting it to new needs. When buildings allow this change they are nice to live and work in.

Maybe the one key message is this: Before building anything, think about its purpose and its users. They are far more important than spectacular looks.

Of course this is true for so many things. Buildings, devices, software, machines, forms, clothes are just a tiny fraction of the list.

How do you resist the urge to create something beautiful or the perfect technical solution without thinking about the user first? What are your tricks and experiences in user centered design?

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