History of UX Design
User experience design: a term that we instantly associate with apps and websites. Especially when considering the typical job description of a UX designer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a purely modern concept.
User experience design draws from design approaches like human-computer interaction and user-centred design. It includes elements from similar disciplines like interaction design, visual design, information architecture, user research, and others.
The second part of the research is understanding the end-user and the purpose of the application. Though this might seem clear to the designer, stepping back and empathizing with the user will yield the best results.
The field of user experience design is a conceptual design discipline. It has its roots in human factors and ergonomics, an area that, since the late 1940s, has focused on the interaction between social users, machines, and the contextual environments to design systems that address the user’s experience. With the proliferation of workplace computers in the early 1990s, user experience started to become a real insight for designers. Donald Norman, a professor and researcher in design, usability, and cognitive science, continued the term “user experience,” and brought it to a broader audience.
User Experience [UX]
In commerce, user experience is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership.
4000 BC: Feng Shui and the importance of space
Also known as Chinese geomancy, is a pseudoscience originating from ancient China, which claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. The term feng shui translates as “wind-water” in English.
You’re probably wondering what an ancient Chinese philosophy could have to do with UX design, but the connection is not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Dating back some 6,000 years, Feng Shui translates as “wind” and “water”, and refers to the spatial arrangement of objects (e.g. furniture) concerning the flow of energy (chi). In practice, Feng Shui is all about arranging your surroundings in the most optimal, harmonious or user-friendly way— be it an office, bedroom or entire building. It concerns everything from layout and framework to materials and colours.
Just as an interior designer might arrange the furniture in a way that makes it easy for the inhabitant to navigate the room, a UX designer would apply similar principles to the task of creating a mobile app. The end goal is the same: to create an intuitive, user-friendly experience. In this respect, you could say that Feng Shui was one of the earliest nods to UX as we know it today.
500 BC: The Ancient Greeks and ergonomics
Although the science of ergonomics did not emerge until the 20th century, there is evidence to suggest that ergonomic principles were known and adhered to 25 centuries ago. The study reported here is a first attempt to research the ergonomics concerns of ancient Greeks, on both a conceptual and a practical level. On the former, we present a collection of literature references to the concepts of usability and human-centred design. On the latter, examples of ergonomic design from a variety of fields are analyzed. The areas explored here include the design of everyday utensils, the sculpture and manipulation of marble as a building material and the design of theatres. Though hardly exhaustive, these examples serve to demonstrate that the ergonomics principles, in content if not in name, actually emerged a lot earlier than is traditionally thought.
The origins of UX can also be traced right back to Ancient Greece. There is evidence to suggest that, as early as the 5th century BC, Greek civilizations designed their tools and workplaces based on ergonomic principles.
According to the International Ergonomics Association, ergonomics—or human factors—is “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design and optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”
One of the strongest indications that the Ancient Greeks were well aware of ergonomic principles is the way that Hippocrates described how a surgeon’s workplace should be set up. He refers to the lighting in the room, the surgeon’s positioning—”the surgeon may stand or be seated, in a posture comfortable for him”—and the arrangement of tools; “they must be positioned in such a way as to not obstruct the surgeon, and also be within easy reach when required.”
The Early 1900s: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the quest for workplace efficiency
Frederick Winslow Taylor
was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency. He was one of the first management consultants. Taylor was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement and his ideas, broadly conceived, was highly influential in the Progressive Era. Born: March 20, 1856, Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States.
Fast forward a few thousand years to meet Frederick Winslow Taylor, a mechanical engineer and pioneer of Taylorism—otherwise known as Scientific Management. On a mission to make human labour more efficient, Taylor conducted extensive research into the interactions between workers and their tools.
In 1911, he wrote “The Principles of Scientific Management” in which he asserted that systematic management is the solution to inefficiency. Although Taylorism was widely criticized for the way it reduced people to mere cogs in a machine, Taylor’s focus on optimizing the relationship between humans and their tools is undoubtedly reminiscent of some fundamental UX principles.
The 1940s: Toyota and the value of human input
Toyota Production System
No executive needs convincing that Toyota Motor Corporation has become one of the world’s most significant companies because of the Toyota Production System (TPS). The different manufacturing system enables the Japanese giant to make the planet’s best automobiles at the lowest cost and to develop new products quickly. Not only have Toyota’s rivals such as Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, Honda, and General Motors developed TPS-like systems, organizations such as hospitals and postal services also have adopted its underlying rules, tools, and conventions to become more efficient. An industry of lean-manufacturing experts has extolled the virtues of TPS so often and with so much conviction that managers believe its role in Toyota’s success to be one of the few enduring truths in an otherwise murky world.
Continuing on the quest for workplace efficiency, Toyota developed their famous human-centred production system. Unlike Taylorism, the Toyota Production System was based upon respect for people, and much attention was paid to creating the optimal working environment. Not only that: human input was considered crucial and was actively encouraged. Toyota factory workers could pull a cord to stop the assembly line if they had feedback or suggestions to improve the process, for example—like usability testing in action, if you will.
This represents a crucial step in UX history, as it really brought attention to the importance of how humans interact with machines. No matter how advanced technology is, its value is limited to its usability—and that’s precisely what UX design is all about.
1955: Henry Dreyfuss and the art of designing for people
was an Industrial Design pioneer. Dreyfuss is known for designing some of the most iconic devices found in American homes and offices throughout the twentieth century, including the Western Electric Model 500 telephone, the Westclox Big Ben alarm clock, and the Honeywell round thermostat. He was Born: March 2, 1904, Brooklyn, New York, United States.
Another key figure in the history of UX design is Henry Dreyfuss, an American industrial engineer who was renowned for designing and improving the usability of some of the most iconic consumer products—including the Hoover vacuum cleaner, the tabletop telephone and the Royal Typewriter Company’s Quiet DeLuxe model.
Dreyfuss’ design philosophy was based on common sense and scientific approaches. In 1955, he wrote Designing for People, which pretty much explains UX design in a nutshell: “When the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the [designer] has failed. On the other hand, if people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”
1966: Walt Disney—the first UX designer?
Walter Elias Disney
was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer. A pioneer of the American animation industry, he introduced several developments in the production of cartoons. He was born: December 5, 1901, Hermosa, Chicago, Illinois, United States.
Engineers aren’t the only ones who had a part to play in the history of UX. He might not seem like the most obvious candidate, but Walt Disney is often hailed as one of the first UX designers in history.
Indeed, Disney was obsessed with creating magical, immersive, near-perfect user experiences, and the way he set about building Disney World was a true stroke of UX genius. In his article for UX Magazine, Joseph Dickerson outlines Walt Disney’s guiding principles for his team of engineers—or Imagineers, as he called them: know your audience, wear your guest’s shoes, communicate with colour, shape, form and texture…
Is a central, one-stop resource for everything related to user experience. We provide a steady stream of current, informative, and credible .. Disney envisioned a place where “the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people” – a vision that today’s UX designers no doubt share.
Is a writer, technologist, and user experience architect who specializes in “next-gen” experiences and products. A designer of multiple mobile and Internet applications, he has worked to make technology easier and better for users for over a decade. The author of several books, including a primer on user experience design, Experience Matters, Dickerson is a regular contributor to many websites as well as editor of This Week in UX, This Week in Geek and The Twin Peaks Gazette. He recently completed his second book on UX, UX 101.
The 1970s: Xerox, Apple and the PC era
Xerox Holdings Corporation is an American global corporation that sells print and digital document products and services in more than 160 countries. Xerox is headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, though its largest population of employees is based around Rochester, New York, the area in which the company was founded.
Apple Inc. is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California, that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. It is considered one of the Big Four tech companies, along with Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
The 1970s kicked off the era of personal computers, with psychologists and engineers working together to focus on the user experience. Many of the most influential developments came out of Xerox’s PARC research centres, such as the graphical user interface and the mouse. In many ways, PARC set the tone for personal computing as we know it today.
A Xerox Company, is in the Business of Breakthroughs®. Practising open innovation, we provide custom R&D services, technology, expertise, best practices, and IP to global Fortune 500 companies, startups, and government agency partners. We create new business options, accelerate time to market, augment internal capabilities, and reduce the risk for our clients. Since its inception, PARC has pioneered many technology platforms – from the Ethernet and laser printing to the GUI and ubiquitous computing – and has enabled the creation of many industries. Incorporated as an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of Xerox in 2002, PARC today continues the research that enables breakthroughs for our clients’ businesses.
And now, over to Apple. In 1984, the original Macintosh was released—Apple’s first mass-market PC featuring a graphical user interface, built-in screen and mouse. Since then, Apple has been a true innovator of user experience, from the first iPod in 2001 to the iPhone in 2007. The tech giant even had a hand in coining the term UX design…
1995: Donald Norman gives UX Design a name
Donald Arthur Norman
Is an American researcher, professor, and author. Norman is the director of The Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego. He is best known for his books on design, especially The Design of Everyday Things. Born: December 25, 1935 (age 83 years), United States
By this point, user experience design was very much happening—it just didn’t have a label yet. Cue Donald Norman!
Donald Norman, a cognitive scientist, joined the team at Apple in the early 90s as their User Experience Architect—making him the first person to have UX in his job title. He came up with the term “user experience design” as a way of encompassing all that UX is. As he explains,
I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were extremely good. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to gain its meaning.Donald Norman
In 1988, Norman published The Psychology of Everyday Things (later updated to The Design of Everyday Things)—which continues to be a UX design staple to this day.
2018 and beyond: History in the making
UX design is continually evolving, and the fascinating journey continues. From Artificial Intelligence to voice technology, from Virtual Reality to design without interface—today’s UX designers face new challenges every day. Whatever the future holds, we’re sure it’ll be just as exciting as the history that precedes it.