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Communication and User Experience in the Built World

Communication is an increasingly valuable commodity. Some of the fastest growing companies (SnapChat, Slack, Salesforce) owe their growth to being able to facilitate it. One of the reasons that communication has value is that in order to communicate, we have to give our attention. Attention has been a valuable commodity for quite a while. Some of the largest companies in the world (Facebook, Google, Viacom) owe their value to being able to sell it. More of our lives are being digitized, but that hasn’t diminished the important role the built world has in our communication. If the communication is designed and facilitated correctly, this could be a benefit to both the owners of the spaces we occupy and the users.

The buzzword d’heure is data. Everyone in real estate (and in every other industry) is being beaten over the head with proof of its increasing importance. Buildings create a lot of data. Granular energy consumption, usage heat maps, IoT sensors that can track just about any physical change in real time. This is great for making decisions about the building itself. But, for many spaces, the most important metric is user experience. After all, it is the users who decide how much or if to pay for the experience. Human psychology is complicated and holistic and is very hard to gauge from usage info alone. So, to be able to track this illusive and lucrative data the building has to be able to get the users to willingly communicate.

Increasingly I am seeing startups intent on facilitating this interaction. Lane is an app that lets tenants easily communicate with their property and facility managers. The open and user friendly communication channel helps tenants relay their needs and allows management to engage and analyze.

For many spaces, the most important metric is user experience. After all, it is the users who decide how much or if to pay for the experience.

Important communication doesn’t only pass between tenants and landlords. Intra-tenant communication is valuable as well. Skyrise and Doorbell are examples of communication tools that connect tenant communities. hOM does this as well, specifically for fitness and health. In the “shared economy” world, connecting tenants so they can compile services like exercise trainers or dog walkers is a great (and virtually free) way to add amenities to any property.

As stated earlier, communication is valuable because it demands attention. It should be said, though that attention is a fickle thing. Just being able to broadcast communication doesn’t guarantee that the receiver will not just tune it out. Advertisers have long realized that the dose is important. Companies like Google have showed that creating a good product and advertising lightly is a better way to create repeat business than complete bombardment or selling out. Captivate does a great job of this. They install monitors in lobbies and elevators that act as portals for communication and broadcast centers for information, entertainment and advertising. They prioritize their content curation to give the best user experience instead of trying to maximize ad revenue with as many commercials as possible.

One thing is for certain: the amount of communication in the built world will steadily increase. Connected devices, the IoT, smart city data analytics; all will increase the amount of digital correspondence constantly happening around us. But, if user experience is a priority, which it should always be, then the most valuable communication is to and from the users themselves. Much as architects need to understand a building function as well as its form, those architecting the future of communication in the built space need to be cognisant of the end user’s needs and preferences. If not, we could find ourselves surrounded by communication with no one listening.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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