Product Management & Construction

In the past several months, I've been using my design and product management skills for something totally different. Building a house! As we were making progress, I started noticing the similarities between my work on software products and construction. Because of that I was able to participate in the design and project planning as well as introducing new processes to the project. This seemingly unrelated project shows how design thinking is ingrained into my thinking and reveals so much about me that I thought it's worth sharing it here.

01. Architecture is 100% UCD (user centered design)

A couple of years ago, I received applications from two architects for a UX job. At that point, I didn't know how much overlap there might be between the two fields. But here is what I learned a year after. Just like UX design, building a house starts with understanding its end-user, identifying the functions it has to perform and meticulously following many human factors (less on the cognition side) and established design principles to ensure great experiences for its future inhabitants.

You go through the ideation phase, low fidelity design, evaluation & build up the details from there. For me, being a UX designer was the start of the trouble. While I was trying to respect my architect, I found no harm in actively participating in the initial design iterations!

Early design explorations - South elevation & section

Boostani & Glaudemans Architects

02. Feedback loop & design iterations.

Designing a house requires knowing the limitations and takes creative effort to create something within those constraints. You as the owner continuously review and re-evaluate your assumptions. Once you have a full drawing set, you submit it to the city for review. And the city opens the discussion to a broader audience and invites all your future neighbors to comment on the your design.

03. Using sketch app to do elevation study

I call elevation study the high fidelity design in the architectural world. It's where you define all the details that go into your living space.I'm probably the first and only person on the planet who used Sketch to design a massive amount of architectural details. I think I'm introducing a whole new untapped market for Sketch  ;)

04. Electrical or let's call it interaction design

Deciding where switches should be placed and what each one should do is the equivalent to interaction design. As a designer, I was able to add this perspective to the design of my house and introduce a lot of micro interaction by using smart hub and connected switches throughout my house.

05. Problem solving, creative thinking & innovation

A product manager does all the above. Building a house could be a playground for unconventional thinking and finding better ways of doing things. You normally feel resistance at work or life when you challenge the conventions. But I was lucky with my contractors and my project became a lab for trying all sort of new things. These are a few things we are doing differently here: innovation

06. Asana for Construction Management

Construction shares the same core elements of software projects: cost, time, and quality. But the work culture and approaches are totally different than what we are used to in the tech universe. I knew I was pushing it when I made all the construction managers to sign up for asana. But given the level of financial commitment I had and seeing a few deadlines passing by, I had no choice but introducing some elements of my PM training to the process. I think there is also a market need for a dead-simple timeline management for a non-tech workers. But in the absence of that, I had to use something that was simple enough and that definitely wasn’t Jira ;)

My efforts in numbers

Tasks documented & tracked
hours of research and management
Materials & vendors selected

Again, why those architects wanted to become UXers?

  • They know how to think like a UXer
  • Construction is a lot of work and responsibility (they can be sued for their work up to 10 years after the work is done)
  • And they don't get paid all that much
But for me, the process was a lot of fun. To want, to imagine, to sweat, and to build something that personally and professionally represents me more deeply than a lot of my other works.