What is the history of UX? UX Question #87

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Ezra from Detroit, Michigan, asks: What is the history of UX?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Ezra. This is UX Question number 87 and I am Ben Judy.

What is the history of UX?

Answering this question depends on how far back in history you’d care to go. Some would point back to the 5th century, B.C. and say that modern UX design has underpinnings in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, and those ideas of spatial arrangement and harmony.

But maybe let’s start with the era personal computers. The graphical user interface and the mouse were developed in the 1970’s at Xerox’s PARC research center, building on concepts pioneered by an engineer named Doug Engelbart. In the 1984, Apple Computers began selling the Macintosh computer which brought a far easier user experience to the masses.

These early innovations in computing weren’t simply technical advances. They were the result of a melding of disciplines including human factors engineering, industrial design, and cognitive psychology. One of those cognitive scientists at Apple, Don Norman, coined the term user experience and wrote The Design of Everyday Things, a book that is still considered required reading in our field.

But due to this multidisciplinary nature of UX work, you’ll hear different things emphasized if you ask a user researcher, an interaction designer, or a usability analyst for an oral history of UX.

For example, an information architecture lens on UX history would necessarily include Richard Saul Wurman’s famous address at the American Institute of Architecture conference of 1976—followed by the publication of Rosenfeld and Morville’s “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web” in 1998.

A specific recounting of the history of usability testing would need to include the formation of the Human Factors Society in 1957, the work Micheal Scriven in the late 1960’s with formative and summative evaluations, and the publication of “The Commercial Impact of Usability in Interactive Systems” by John Bennett in 1979.

I could start again and tell you how product designers will point to Deiter Ram’s “10 Principles of Good Design” as establishing a paradigm for not only graphic design but UI design as well.

But you get the point. UX has a long and fascinating history, full of colorful characters with curious minds who invented and re-invented our understanding of what’s involved in designing digital systems that humans actually enjoy using. I’ll drop a number of links in the description if you’re eager to learn more.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the history of UX is that you can write the next chapter. If you’re asking great questions, you’ve already taken the first step. So keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What can my career path be if I don’t want to become a UX manager?

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