When you think about UX Design, you usually associate the term with apps and websites. If you take into account a typical job description of a UX designer, you would think of it as a modern world concept. The term was devised in 1993 by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman when he started working at Apple Computer. However, the field of UX is older than that. In this blog, let us explore the History of User Experience (UX). If you’re new to UX, this will serve as a comprehensive introduction to the field. If you happen to be an experienced professional, this might help you think differently.
The History of UX design
While you may look at the History of UX as if you have heard about it for the first time, I assure you it is much older than that. Let us have a closer look at UX and its origins now.
4000 BC: Feng Shui and the importance of space
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 with the flow of energy.0 Feng Shui is all about the arrangement of the surroundings in the most harmonious, optimal, and user-friendly way, and it covers everything from layout and colors to materials and framework.
By now, you must be wondering what an ancient Chinese philosophy would have to do with UX Design? A UX designer can arrange the fundamentals in a pattern that would make it easy for the user to navigate around, just like an interior designer rearranging the furniture for the inhabitant to navigate around the room. The end goal is to create a user-friendly intuitive experience.
500 BC: Fundamentals of Ergonomics in Ancient Greece
Traces of the origins of UX Design can lead back to Ancient Greece. Evidence suggests that in the 5th Century BC, the Greek civilizations designed their tools and workplaces based on the fundamentals of ergonomics. What does that have to do with UX? For starters, Ergonomics, also called human factors, is a scientific discipline that accounts for how humans communicate with various other stimuli to optimize the overall well-being of consumers. The Ancient Greeks were well aware of ergonomics, as mentioned by Hippocrates. He wrote that a surgeon’s tools must be placed in such a way as to not hinder the surgeon, and also stay within easy reach when needed. Does that sound familiar to you?
The 1900s: Frederick Taylor and the quest for workplace efficiency
Fast-forward two millenniums and four centuries later in the early 1900s, a mechanical engineer and the founder of Taylorism, Frederick Taylor, intended to make human labor more efficient. He researched the communication between workers and their tools and wrote The Principles of Scientific Management. He claimed that systematic management is the answer to inefficiency. Albeit under criticism, Frederick’s focused on optimizing the relationship between humans and their tools. When combined with Tactics for Mass Production by Henry Ford, it created an ideal interaction and paved the way for User Experience.
The 1940s: Toyota and value of human input
The next stop on the timeline is in 1940, where Toyota developed the famous human-centered production system.
The Toyota Production System is about respect for people, and attention paid to crafting the optimal working environment, unlike Taylorism. Human input was considered pivotal and was actively encouraged. Factory workers were allowed to stop the assembly line incase they had suggestions to improve the process, similar to what the UX designers do during usability testing. It represents a pivotal step in UX history as it brought out the need of the user.
1955: Henry Dreyfuss and the art of designing for people
Another key figure in the background of UX design is Henry Dreyfuss, an industrial engineer known for improving the usability of some of the most iconic consumer products — including the telephone and Hoover vacuum cleaner. In 1955, Dreyfuss wrote Designing for People, where he explains UX design as a point which makes people more comfortable, safer, more efficient, more eager to purchase— or just happier — by contact with the product.
1966: Walter Elias Disney – the first UX designer?
Walt Disney is considered one of the first UX designers of our time. Disney was obsessed with creating immersive, magical, near-perfect user experiences. His principles were all about knowing the audience and communicating with color by stepping into the guest’s shoes. Disney talked about a UX vision in 1966, for what would become Walt Disney World, a masterstroke of UX genius. He envisioned 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. It became a motto that UX designers follow to date!
The 1970s: The Xerox, Apple and PC era
The 1970s was an onset where psychologists and engineers came together to focus on UX, starting the era of PCs. Many prominent developments came out of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), like the graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse. PARC set the tone for computing as we know it today. And How can we forget Apple’s original Macintosh? When released in 1984, it was 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 to the first iPhone. And as stated above, the giant also had a hand in coining the term UX design.
1995: Don Norman names UX Design
In the 1990s, UX had gained notoriety but was missing an official tag. Then Don Norman was hired as a UX Architect at Apple Inc. He made a term that would encompass all that UX is. He explained, 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, physical interaction, and the manual.
As Apple’s first UX Architect, Don Norman became the first person to have UX in his job title.
Today is history in the making.
Today, the term UX design is used, often as a buzzword in the tech industry for the last few years. It is a field with rapid growth and will dwarf other competing technologies by 2050.
What we’ve witnessed is nothing compared to what’s to come. I’m very confident in the future for the user experience profession. A prime differentiator in the future of the world economy will be UX.