User Experience: Where Did It All Begin?

Although it may seem like a recent phenomenon, the study of how technology can be used to improve human life (also known as user experience design) actually dates back to ancient times.

The earliest incidence of user experience design can be traced back to the Greek physician Hippocrates, who developed improvements in the workplace environment for surgeons. His opinions were part of the earliest study of ergonomics, which explored the best ways for efficiency and convenience in the way that humans engaged in work.

During the Renaissance, circa 1430, the Duke of Milan commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to design his kitchen to accommodate a large-scale dinner. Michael Gelb recounts this experience in his book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”. Da Vinci designed and utilized conveyor belts and a sprinkler system for the occasion. The conveyor belt and sprinkler system failed, but da Vinci’s efforts are considered the first recorded occurrence of user experience design.

Leonard da Vinci’s notes on design

The twentieth century brought about advances in user experience design due largely to the Industrial Revolution. During the early 1900s, mechanical engineering and automotive design were combined to improve the production of the Ford Model T. Henry Ford’s mass-production methods and mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor’s influential publication, “The Principles of Scientific Management”, both influenced improvements in physical labor and production tools in automotive production facilities.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the interaction between humans and technology (i.e. human interaction) saw great improvement. In 1948, Toyota utilized input from its assembly employees to improve its automotive manufacturing methods, an effort known as “Human-Centered Production”. In 1955, American industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss wrote “Designing for People”, which introduced influential ideas about how products could be used to improve human tasks.

Human Interaction Manufacturing Display at the Toyota Museum

The second half of the twentieth century brought about advances from several notable companies that furthered the use of technology to improve the human experience. In 1966, Walt Disney announced that his upcoming family-based amusement park (which would become Disney World) would utilize the latest technology to improve the lives of its visitors. During the 1970s, the research division of Xerox (PARC) produced computers that catered to the needs of users. Psychologist and engineer Bob Taylor, PARC team leader, was responsible for the introduction of the GUI and the mouse.

During the late 1990s and 2000s, Apple made further advances in the practice of human interaction design. In 1995, electrical engineer and cognitive scientist Don Norman introduced the phrase “User Experience Architect” during his tenure at Apple. He joined Apple during the mid 1990s to help with the research and design of its upcoming human centered products, most notably the iPhone. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, its touchscreen helped to place Apple in the forefront of the smartphone market.

The present and near future of user experience design continues to be centered on human interaction. The Internet and technology have become increasingly interwoven into the everyday lives of humans, as shown by the Internet of Things and wearable technology such as the Apple Watch. As such, user experience design has become multidisciplinary, involving psychology, graphic design, user research, consumer advocacy, and the like.


Wohlforth, Carla. “A Brief History of UX Design.” July 25, 2016.

Treder, Marcin. “The History of User Experience Design.” February 11, 2014.

Tariq, Ali Rushdan. “A Brief History of User Experience.” February 26, 2015.

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