A Brief History of UX Design

The term user experience is widely used amongst those in the world of technology and design but to those who are not, it may not be familiar. When telling people that I am learning a skill set to become a UX designer, people often look confounded.

This term was coined by a man named Don Norman. But prior to a name being given to it, user experience had roots that date back to the early 1400’s. According to lore, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to design a kitchen that would be able to produce a large feast for his guests. There was a conveyer belt and a sprinkler system that ended in failure. The design conceptually seemed to be brilliant but the functionality of it did not work.


Fast forward to the early 1900’s when an influential book was written by a man named Frederick Winslow Taylor called, “ The Principles of Scientific Management” He posed that by studying the interactions between the laborer and their machines, you could find more efficient ways to perform tasks which paralleled Henry Ford’s vision for mass production.


Come mid 20th century, Toyota brings in the vital element of the the people that are on the assembly and their feedback. This brought scrutiny to human interactions with technology.

Image from The Houston Chronicle

Now we have elements that are coming together that lead us to an industrial designer named Henry Dreyfuss, (You have to be a Henry or a Frank to be influential, I guess) who said,

“When the point of contact between product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed.”

What Dreyfuss was alluding to was this idea of delighting the person when they used a product. This becomes a propagating concept in a modern world where we are in constant contact with our products, mostly through technology.

No one understood or felt as passionate about this concept of delight and joy as Walt Disney. In 1966, when he was building Disney World he stated that it was,

“Always in the state of becoming a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people”

People in tech and design would call these iterations.

Image from Life Magazine

In the 1970’s, PARC which was the research team led by Bob Taylor for Xerox created some of the most important tools such as the mouse and Graphical User Interface (GUI) which are things like icons, windows and menus. This changed the ways humans interacted with computers in a revolutionary way.

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Now we go back to Don Norman, who mentioned earlier. He joined the Apple team to help design a line of products that were human centered and asked that he be named the “User Experience Architect”. That was the birth of the term used in a work title.

Norman had already written a highly influential book amongst designers today called, “The Design of Everyday Things” which lays out the principles of usability and functionality and their importance opposed to aesthetics which should come secondary, when design is in mind.

In 2007, the iphone was presented to us by Steve Jobs as a smartphone that was to be easier to use than any other on the current market. This lead to be true for many and as a result, people inadvertently were understanding that they enjoyed things that are easier to use and businesses could see from Apple’s phenomenal success that better usability meant higher profits.

Image from imore.com

This concludes the time line of UX’s multidisciplinary practices and the people behind them with an industry that is evolving rapidly to keep up with the ever growing complex needs of people and their experiences. We are seeing the advent of AI and self driving vehicles. It’s an exciting time for humans and how we interact with the world around us. UX specifically aims to make those at least functional and at best pleasurable.

References from:

Invisionapp.com by Ali Rushdan Tariq

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