I think that the field of interaction design started way back when we first consciously realized that our interaction (with each other, our tools) and behavior could be designed. That could have been when we first started living in societies or when we started creating art in caves.
I think there are three points at which the field took major leap. The first was in Wilhelm Wundt’s first exclusive psychology laboratory in 1879. The awareness that the mind was an entity that could be studied and that experiments could be performed on (Facebook did it till recently in it’s Contagion Study) opened out the field to design.
The second point that I think of is during the second World War. Like Grudin says, it was the need for ‘engineering psychology’ (actually standardization and matching users’ mental model in dials in aircrafts) that gave birth to the scientific study of human factors.
My own background has been in 2 years of psychology in high school, followed by foundational Design (yes, Design with a capital ‘D’), then Visual Communication design, Interaction design, Service design, and User experience design. In fact, my previous job was that of a Sr. Human Factors Specialist at Human Factors International. So I’m familiar with history of the field before the computing era.
I think the needs that lead to the field being established and the needs that we have today are quite different but in a way, they do co-exist. Now the design of fighter plane cockpits isn’t as revolutionary but I guess the previous research and ensuing principles of HCI are relevant when designing the interiors of space shuttles for Space X.
The third leap was a few years into the personal computing era. Prior to that, HCI was a very specialized field for very specialized users in specific contexts. As computing became more widespread and democraticized, the needs for interfaces that were easy to use and learn, efficient and satisfying to use grew. Behavioural economics and cognitive psychology still played a role in the design of interfaces but it began to be viewed through a consumerist lens. How do we use the principle of scarcity to sell more airline tickets? How do we use the concept of fiero and sense of achievement in online shopping?
It’s not just the tools that have become democratized over the last few decades. I like to believe that the way interactions are being designed has also changed. Large scale live A/B testing that determines how user traffic is flowing and AI website are already happening.
I think the next jump in interaction design will be the move to system design. It’s a more holistic view of interaction design and raises more complex questions than the debate over where the home button should be placed.
Nathan Shedroff’s design manifesto for Experience design is that it ‘is the deliberate, careful creation of a total experience for an audience.’ (Experience Design 1, 2001, Nathan Shedroff) I think designers have been dreaming of this for a while but haven’t necessarily been successful.
As the complexity of our societal problems grows, there will be a greater need and appreciation for experience and interaction and service and system designers who approach problems creatively and collaboratively.