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The Modern History of UX

The Modern History of UX


Now that people have online connectivity through the internet, let’s look at how the past few decades have shaped user experience. The term UX was coined by Don Norman in 1995 when he was vice president at the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. In his own words, “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.


Since then, yeah, the term has spread so widely and so much that it’s starting to lose its meaning. User experience, human-centered design, usability, all of those things, even affordances, they just sort of enter the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them, often, without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.” It is this lack of foundational knowledge that Don Norman describes that has led to confusion as to what these roles should be within companies. It would take another 12 years and the advent of the iPhone in 2007 for the B2C app market to surpass the B2B software market and the emphasis on need for excellent experience design to gain traction in the software and digital markets. UX stopped being looked at as simply a way to make something pretty and instead started being understood as a competitive business advantage used to create useful, usable, and delightful products that solve the problems and win the hearts of the people that use them.


Airbnb is a perfect example of a company that employed UX practices, resulting in astounding success. Founded as a startup company in 2008, the company had a vision of using technology to empower people to rent out the rooms in their homes, disrupting the hotel market and providing homeowners a conduit to leverage their homes for profit. For several years, the company struggled as they piloted it in New York City. People were listing their rooms for rent, but no one was renting. Running out of money and about to give up, the founders employed a UX research method and interviewed users who went to their site and looked at options but didn’t book. The founders discovered that the users were turned off by the less-than-beautiful pictures the homeowners had taken of the spaces. In comparison to the beautifully composed pictures of hotel rooms, the potential users were won over by the hotel listings. Now that the founders understood the problem, they hired a professional photographer to go to the homeowners and replace the pictures with more professional ones. And within a year, the business was achieving wild success. And it’s not only smaller companies that are benefiting from UX. In 2014, IBM design invested 100 million in a massive program and design center in Austin, Texas to educate all employees from the janitor on up to the CEO on human-centered design and then reorganized their product teams to place UX practices at the core of all that they create. Capital One, they invested in acquiring Adaptive Path bringing the renown, creative digital agency in house with the hopes of proliferating the UX practices that had made Adaptive Path so successful.

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