History of User Experience Design


User Experience Design, or UXD, has been defined as a field just within the last few decades. It was first defined by UXD pioneer Don Norman as:

“the judicious application of certain user-centered design practices, a highly contextual design mentality, and use of certain methods and techniques that are applied through process management to produce cohesive, predictable, and desirable effects in a specific person, or persona (archetype comprised of target audience habits and characteristics)” (UX Design Defined).
Hippocrates, Biography.com

Ancient Beginnings

Despite its recent definition, academics can trace examples of UXD back centuries. Ergonomics existed as a field as early as the 5th century B.C.E., with ἔργον meaning “work” and νόμος meaning “natural laws”. For example, in About the Hospital, Hippocrates developed an ideal surgeon’s workplace (Treder).

Modern History

Following the innovation of the industrial revolution, F.W. Taylor was a pioneer in the field of productivity. After doubling productivity at Midvale Steel Company, he published The Principles of Scientific Management, the work for which he is best known (PBS). However, he has left behind a legacy of soulless work, now a global phenomenon.

In the 1940s, Toyota innovated the production process with its philosophies of jidoka — automation with a human touch — and “Just-in-Time”. These core philosophies ensured that equipment stopped during complications to ensure that defective products do not get produced and that each station produces only what is necessary to ensure work flow. This style embraced collaboration among employees (Toyota Motors).

Personal Computers

Analytical Engine, Computer History Museum

Charles Babbage introduced his analytical engine in 1834. In introducing it to an engineer, Ada Lovelace added notes that earned her the title “the first programmer” and “prophet of the computer age” (Swade).

Alan Turing formed a model for a theoretical computer in the 1940s, and Henry Dreyfus wrote Designing for People in 1955, further paving the way for UXD (Tariq).

In the research lab of Xerox Parc in the 1970s, ethnographer Lucy Suchman created a film of two individuals attempting to use a copy machine with great difficulty. Revealing that the two were prominent computer scientists helped to dispel the myth that problems were caused by the ignorance of users. Xerox Parc helped develop technologies people now take for granted, such as the computer mouse and graphical user interface, with the assistance of psychology used in the design of their products.

UXD Today

After the term was coined by Don Norman in 1995, the field of UXD has rapidly grown, with thousands of user experience design professionals currently practicing and many prominent universities expanding its practice into academia.

Hopefully, in the future, UXD’s many practitioners will continue to ease the lives of the many people who use their products and services.

“Fredrick Winslow Taylor.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

Swade, Doron. “Ada Lovelace.” Babbage Engine | Computer History Museum. Computer History Museum, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

Tariq, Ali Rushdan. “A Brief History of User Experience.” InVision Blog. InVision, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

TOYOTA MOTORS. “Toyota Global Site | Production System.” Toyota Motor Corporation Global Website. Toyota Company, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

Treder, Marcin. “The History of User Experience Design.” Medium. Medium.com, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

“UX Design Defined.” UX Design. UX Design.com, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.