UX Design: A Century in the Making

Rachee Jacobs
Dec 20, 2015 · 3 min read

With User Experience on the rise, take a look back in history at its origins

From Taylorism to Toyota, Dreyfuss to Disney and Xerox’s PARC to the iPhone, user experience has been forming roots for over a century. Today, the field is growing faster than ever with technological advances happening at the speed of light. It seems like every company these days wants a UX professional on board to make sure their users have the best experience possible.

But lets back up a little. What is UX Design and where did it all start?

What is UX Design?

User Experience Design is the art and science of maximising user satisfaction of a product by making sure the look, feel and usability are at optimal levels for the products target audience. In todays world, it generally applies to any HCI (human-computer interaction) including websites, software and mobile applications.

Basically, the name of the game is to make sure your users get a really good feeling when using your product, thus ensuring a great user experience.

UX Through the Ages

Going back to the early 1900’s, during the Industrial Revolution, people like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford were trying to make human labor more efficient by creating routines to maximise production. In doing this they were essentially shaping the first vision of what efficient interactions between humans and machines should look like.

Moving on to the 1940’s, Toyota had an idea that maybe seeking out input from its employees could contribute to the efficiency of its engineering and production. This addition of “user input” added a new dimension to human interaction with technology.

(Source: http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/where-ux-comes-from/)

The 1950’s saw Henry Dreyfuss, an industrial designer, write the important piece “Designing for People”, which showed the importance of making people safe, comfortable and happy while using a product.

Walt Disney had a vision in the 1960’s for a project that would continuously offer great experiences to a visitor, “a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people”. This little project would later become Disney World.

In the 1970’s, Xerox’s research center, PARC, changed the way computers were used by creating a graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse making it more human-friendly. This led to Apple creating the Macintosh, the first commercially available computer with a GUI.

All of these occurrences throughout history were finally joined together in the 1990’s when Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and engineer, joined Apple to help with the research and design of their human-centered products and ended up coining the first UX term (his job title) “User Experience Architect”. Today, he is considered to be a leader in the field and has written books and given lectures about User Centered Design.

Donald Norman explaining User Centered Design

Fast forward to 2007, when Apple announces the iPhone — a smartphone that was to be the most user friendly on the market. The release of this product forever changed the way the mobile phone market functioned, with everyone jumping on board the “user experience bandwagon”. Since then, companies have followed Apples suit and started putting emphasis on User Experience being at the forefront of their business needs.


As technology continues to accelerate forward, and become more intertwined with human life, it is clear that the end user must be put at the forefront of the thought and design behind a product. Those who don’t create a great experience for their users, will get left in the dust.


Rachee Jacobs

Written by

Product designer. All about creating the most magical user experience possible. http://racheejacobs.com