A Short History of User Experience UX

We live in the age of the consumer- these days, customers are more informed than ever, and consequently, expect more than ever. User experience is more important than ever, in fact, according to a recent Walker study, it will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator by the end of the decade.  In most cases, when people use the term “UX”, they are usually talking about one’s experience with a digital product or service. However, while “UX” is a fairly new concept, its history can be traced back to the beginning of the century.

Early 20th century

More than a century ago, Frederick Winslow Taylor, one of the first management consultants gave us the earliest known example of systematic user experience research in his 1911 book “The Principles of Scientific Management”.  Even though Taylor was initially criticized for dehumanizing workers, this research into the efficiency of interactions between the laborers and their tools is an early precursor to much of today’s UX research.

50s Dreyfuss’ Designing for People

More than four decades later, industrial designer, Henry Dreyfuss authored the book, “Designing for People”. Unlike Taylor, who treated people like cogs in a machine, Dreyfuss emphasized the connection between people, their personal experience and the design of the product.  He writes, “when the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the [designer] has failed”.

70s The Design of Personal Computers

Many early milestones in the design of computers for personal use came to use from PARC, a research center founded in the early 70s by Xerox.  The team led by Bob Taylor (no relation to Frederick Winslow), a trained psychologist and engineer was responsible for the concept of a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and the computer mouse. Their work especially influenced the first commercially available GUI – Apple Macintosh.

90s The First User Experience Professional

While we are on the Subject of Apple, let’s talk about the origin of the term “user experience”. In 1993, cognitive psychologist Donald Norman joined Apple’s staff. He coined the phrase to encompass what was until that point described as “human interface research”.  He also held the title of User Experience Architect, so he was possibly he first person ever to have the phrase on his business résumé. Norman’s book, “The Design of Everyday Things” analyzes many of the positive and negative factors that contribute to UX.

00s Apple and the iPhone

At MacWorld 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, a “leapfrog product” that promised to be easier to use than any other mobile device on the market. As we all know today, the product delivered on its promise and changed the way we look at smartphones, and catapulted Apple in the position of one of the most successful companies in the world in the process.

By providing a user experience far superior to that of any other smartphone, the introduction of iPhone inadvertently led to current business focus on UX. New technologies are emerging every day, and the old ones are evolving, for example, most retail stores are now using interactive pos displays in order to create brand awareness and enhance the customer experience.

The Future of UX

Practically every milestone in the development of user experience has involved interaction between technology and human beings. BI Intelligence predicts that more than 34 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. As technology continues to weave itself into our society and everyday lives, we can expect to see UX continues to change and evolve.

Author Bio – submitted by: Oscar Waterworth 

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