Why do you think the vinyl record is such an enduring format?
April 27, 2015
A Brief History Of User Experience Design
March 16, 2015
Look to the past, whether 1430 or 1930, for clues as to where User Exeriences are heading.
Think about the last time you ate at a restaurant. What cuisine did it serve?
What made you choose that particular restaurant? What was your first impression as you walked in? Were you asked to wait until you were ushered to an available seat? How was the menu arranged? Did food come quickly enough? How did it taste? How was the customer service? Would you go back again?
Your answers to these questions, including all the emotional highs and lows, encompass the restaurant’s user experience (UX).
However, when people use the term UX, they’re usually referring to one’s experience with a digital or technological product or service. The implication is that the user’s experience has been designed and is, at least potentially, further designable.
Today, UX has grown into an important design discipline that continues to grow and evolve. And while it’s fairly new, its multidisciplinary history can be traced all the way back to the Renaissance—if not earlier.
To think about where the much debated-practice of user experience design will take us next, it’ll help to take a look back at some of the key events in its meandering evolution.
Circa 1430: Leonardo da Vinci’s "kitchen nightmare"
Michael Gelb’s wonderful book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps To Genius Every Day recounts the story of the Duke of Milan commissioning da Vinci to design the kitchen for a high-profile feast. The great maestro took the job on with his usual inventive flair. In what is considered the first use of the technology (hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution) da Vinci designed and employed conveyor belts to transport food items to the preparers. He also built what is likely the first sprinkler system for safety measures.
Comically, however, the conveyer belts operated too erratically for the workers and—to make matters worse—the sprinkler system went off, ruining some of the food.
While this particular case was a disaster, it’s an early story that bears the trace of user experience design practices to come.
Early 1900s: Taylorism and the Industrial Revolution
Frederick Winslow Taylor, a mechanical engineer and one of the first management consultants, authored "The Principles of Scientific Management," a widely influential study of engineering efficiency. Along with Henry Ford’s pioneering mass-production techniques, Taylor and his supporters shaped the early vision of what interactions between laborers and their tools should be like.
1948: Toyota and the humanizing of the production system
While Toyota, like Ford, valued efficiency in engineering and production, it also sought its employees input. The assembly workers’ contributions were valued greatly—almost as much as the technologies used. The roaring success that Toyota experienced as a result brought new attention to the role of human interaction with technology.
1955: Dreyfuss's Designing for People
Henry Dreyfuss, an American industrial designer, wrote the classic text Designing for People.
In it, he writes: When the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial 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.
These principles, which include today’s oft-invoked concept of delight, have only grown more relevant as the points of contact between products and people proliferate.
1966: Disney and the role of joy
In a very early-stage announcement of what would later become Disney World, Walt Disney described the project as "always in the state of becoming, a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people." His imaginative use of technology to bring people joy continues to inspire user experience designers today.
1970s: PARC and the design of personal computers
Xerox’s famous research arm, PARC, gave form and function to the design of computers for human use. Bob Taylor, a trained psychologist and engineer, led his team in building some of the most important and enduring tools of human-computer interaction, including the graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse.
1995: Don Norman, the first user experience professional
An electrical engineer and cognitive scientist by trade, Don Norman joined Apple to help with the research and design of its upcoming line of human-centered products. He asked to be called "User Experience Architect," marking the first use of the term in a job title.
By this time Don Norman had also written his classic book, The Design of Everyday Things, which championed design for usability and functionality rather than aesthetics. It remains hugely influential for designers today.