A Journey through the History of UX Design

11 Nov 2023

Summary: The article explores the evolution of User Experience (UX) design, tracing its roots from ancient practices like Feng Shui and Greek ergonomics to modern influences by figures such as Frederick W. Taylor, Henry Dreyfuss, Walt Disney, and Don Norman, who coined the term “UX” in the 1990s. It highlights key milestones, including the development of graphical user interfaces by Xerox and Apple, and the revolutionary impact of the iPhone. UX design focuses on how users interact with products and services, considering their thoughts, emotions, and actions throughout their journey.

In recent times, “UX” or User Experience has become a widely recognized term, often used without a clear understanding of its origins and significance. When did UX design start its journey, and what was UX formerly called? How did human interaction evolve into user experience through many phases? This article provides a concise exploration of the history of UX design and presents two examples to illustrate why UX is important for all products and services.

What does ux mean?

Let’s first understand the definition of UX design. User Experience focuses on how people interact with products and services. It considers users’ thoughts, emotions, and actions before, during, and after using a product, providing a holistic perspective on the entire user journey. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines UX as a person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use or anticipated use of a product, system, or service.

image view of ux history

User experience design history

let’s take a moment to explore a short overview of UX evolution:

4000 BC: Feng Shui and UX: Feng Shui emphasized the importance of harmonizing one’s surroundings. This principle of simplicity and reducing clutter aligns with modern UX design’s “less is more” approach.

500 BC: Ancient Greece and Ergonomics: Ancient Greeks used ergonomic principles to design tools and workplaces, focusing on comfort and efficiency.

Early 1900s: Frederick W. Taylor and scientific management: Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management approach highlighted the importance of optimizing work processes and harmonizing human-machine interactions, a core concept in UX design.

1940s: Toyota Production System: Toyota’s human-centered approach to workspace efficiency, emphasizing customer focus and continuous improvement, became a fundamental step in UX history.

1950s: Henry Dreyfuss and designing for people: Henry Dreyfuss’s principles of making people feel safe, comfortable, efficient, and happy greatly influenced modern UX design, particularly in digital products.

1960s: Walt Disney — the first UX designer?: Walt Disney’s design principles, such as knowing the audience, storytelling, and using visual cues, are still relevant to UX designers today.

1970s: Xerox, Apple, and the PC era: The introduction of graphical user interfaces by Xerox and Apple marked a turning point in making computers user-friendly.

User experience term

1990s: Don Norman and the term “UX”: The journey of User Experience design began to gain momentum in the 1990s, thanks to Don Norman. In 1993, Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and usability engineer, introduced the term “user experience” and even adopted it as his job title, “User Experience Analyst.” He felt that existing terms like “human interface” and “usability” were too limiting and introduced “UX” to encompass all aspects of a person’s interaction with a product, including design, graphics, interface, and physical interaction.

Early 2000s: the first iPhone: The introduction of the iPhone by Steve Jobs revolutionized digital interaction and set new standards for user-computer interfaces.

Today is history in the making: UX design continues to evolve with new technologies like augmented and virtual reality and artificial intelligence, requiring designers to adapt and develop new skills.

If you want to learn about the history of UX design briefly, I would suggest two articles. The first one is “A Short History of UX Design” and the second one is “The evolution of user experience design”.

Now, we’ll explore two notable examples user experience importance. One company saw a remarkable increase in their annual revenue, reaching $300 million, while another experienced a substantial loss of $1.85 billion in sales.

An e-commerce site saw a number of people not purchasing products after adding cards. They then analyzed the issues and created a strategy to make registration optional for buying the product. So now the user can purchase the product without creating an account. As a result, the annual revenue increased by around $300 million

In contrast, a one-question survey by Walmart led to the removal of 15% of inventory based on customer feedback, resulting in a $1.85 billion loss in sales, highlighting the importance of careful user-centric decisions.

Walmart made a survey to improve product surfing on their website and they added one question, will the inventory option be cluttered? It was the leading question and users gave “yes” answers. They removed 15% of the inventory and the result was shocking and they lost $1.85 billion in sales. After that, they reversed the old inventory design.

The history of UX design is a journey of evolving principles and practices, all with the common goal of improving user interactions and experiences. From ancient principles like Feng Shui to contemporary innovations by pioneers such as Don Norman and Steve Jobs, UX design has continuously evolved to prioritize user satisfaction and efficiency. By understanding the history of UX, businesses can better navigate challenges and drive success through enhanced user interactions and experiences.