A timeline Of UX Design
When you think about UX design it is a term that we immediately associate with applications and websites. And especially when taking into account a typical job description of a UX designer, it can fool you into thinking that it’s a contemporary concept.
The term was devised in ‘93 by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman when he was working at Apple Computer. But the field of UX is older than the term.
In this blog, I urge you to explore with me the history of UX since it is important to understand this field. If you’re new to UX, this serves as a comprehensive introduction to the field and if happen to be an experienced professional, it might just help you in thinking differently.
The History of UX design
While you may look at history as something you learned way back in high school, knowing the history can help provide valuable insights into the future. So let us have a closer look at UX and its origins.
4000 BC: the importance of space and Feng Shui
The most fundamental principles of UX can be traced back to 4000 BC to the pre-historic Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui. It refers to the spatially arranging objects in relation to the energy flow. Practically, Feng Shui is all about arrangment of your surroundings in the most harmonious , optimal, and user-friendly way and it covers everything from layout and colors to materials and framework.
So if you’re still curious what an ancient Chinese philosophy could possibly have to do with User Experience design try and put it this way. If you happen to be an interior designer arranging the furniture in a pattern that makes it easy for the inhabitant to navigate around the room, a User Experience designer would apply similar fundamentals to the task of creating a website or an app. The end goal remains the same: to create an user-friendly intuitive experience.
500 BC: ergonomics and the Ancient Greeks and
Another trace of User Experience origins can be found in Ancient Greece. There is significant evidence to suggest that in the 5th century BC, Greek civilizations designed their tools and workplaces based on the fundamentals of ergonomics.
What does that have concern with UX? For those who are unaware, Ergonomics — also called human factors — is the scientific discipline that takes into account how humans communicate with various other factors of a system and “the profession that applies theory, data, principles, and methods to design in order to optimize system performance and overall human well-being .
So what’s the relation to UX? Well, one of the strongest indicators that the Ancient Greeks were well aware of ergonomics is a text written by Hippocrates defining how a surgeon’s workplace should be set up. He suggests that the surgeon’s tools; “must be placed in such a way as to not hinder the surgeon, and also stay within easy reach when needed.” Sounds a lot like UX, isn’t it?
Early 1900s: the quest for workplace and efficiency Frederick Winslow Taylor
Fast-forward a few 1000 years to the early 1900s and we chance upon Frederick Taylor — a mechanical engineer and the founder of Taylorism — with an objective to make human labor more efficient.
Taylor conducted deep research into the communication between workers and their tools. He wrote “The Principles of Scientific Management”. He claimed that systematic management is the answer to inefficiency. Although Taylorism was criticized for the way it reduced people to just cogs in a machine, Taylor’s focus on optimizing the relation between humans and their tools is definitely evocative of some key User Experience principles.
1940s: the value of human input
The next step on the timeline leads us to the ‘40s where Toyota — with the objective for workplace efficiency — developed the famous human-centered production system.
Unlike Taylorism, the TPS was based on respect for people, and attention was paid to crafting the optimal working environment. Just as important, human input was considered important and was actively encouraged. Factory workers were allowed to stop the assembly line if they had suggestions to improve the process, just like User Experience designers do while in usability testing.
This represents a key step in User Experience history as it brought attention to put the user first.
1955: the art of designing for people and Henry Dreyfuss
One more key figure in the history of User Experience design is Henry Dreyfuss, an industrial engineer who was known for improving the usability of some of the most iconic consumer products — including the the tabletop telephone and Hoover vacuum cleaner.
Dreyfuss’ wrote Designing for People, in 1955, where he explains User Experience design in short: “When the point of contact between the people and the product becomes a centre of friction, the [designer] has failed. On the other hand, if people are made more comfortable, safer, more efficient, more eager to purchase— or just happier — by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”
1966: Was Walt Disney, the first UX designer?
Walt Disney is hailed as one of the first User Experience designers in history. Disney was obsessed with creating immersive, magical, near-perfect user experiences, and the way he set out to build Disney World was a true stroke of User Experience genius.
Walt Disney’s principles for his team of engineers — or Imagineers, as he called— were all about knowing your audience, communicating with color, wearing your guest’s shoes, shape, form, texture and so on.
Disney talked about a UX vision in 1966, for what would become Walt Disney World. He’s envisioned a place to be “ a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people, an experimental prototype that is always in the state of becoming,” If that isn’t what User Experience is all about, I don’t know what is.
‘70s: Apple, Xerox and the PC era
The 1970s kicked off the era of PCs, with psychologists and engineers working together to focus on the UX.
Many of the influential developments came out of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), such as the graphical user interface and the mouse. PARC set the tone for computing as we know it today.
Moving over to Apple’s original Macintosh was released in 1984, the Apple’s first mass-market PC featuring a built-in screen, graphical user interface, and mouse. Since then, Apple has been a true innovator of UX, from the first iPod in to the iPhone. The giant even had a hand in coining the term UX design as I mention in the intro of this article and as you will next.
‘95: D Norman gives UX Design a name
In the ‘90s user experience was pretty much spread but missing an official tag.
As D Norman, a cognitive scientist joined the team at Apple in the 90s he needed a term that would encompass all that User Experience is. As he explains, “I coined the term because I thought usability and human interface were too narrow. I wanted to cover all factors of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, the interface, graphics, the physical interaction, and the manual.”
As Apple’s UX Architect, D Norman becomes the first person to have UX in his job title.
Today is History in making
Today, the term UX design has become a buzzword in the tech industry in the last few years. It is a fast growing field and is expected to keep growing so much by 2050 that it will dwarf anything we’ve seen so long.
What we’ve seen so far is nothing compared with what’s to come. The main value driver in the economy’s future will be UX and I’m very confident in the future of the user experience profession.