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My UX Stories

 Since 1990s

retro technology

Understanding the History of UX Design

In the 1990s, I witnessed the birth of the term 'user experience,' coined by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman. But the roots of UX extend far beyond its name, spanning decades of innovation and evolution.

Now, you might wonder, why delve into the past when our focus should be on the future? Well, here's the thing: understanding the history of UX design is like holding a compass to navigate the uncharted waters of tomorrow.

As someone who has lived through and contributed to this dynamic field, I've come to appreciate how crucial it is to trace our origins.

By uncovering the rich tapestry of UX's history, we gain insight into its foundations, the forces that shaped it, and the lessons it offers. It's not about dwelling on the past but rather arming ourselves with the wisdom to craft a more user-centric and innovative future.

Introduction of Web Browsers & CSS


From ancient China to Japan, and eventually to the industrial engineering hubs of America, the concept of human-centered design with a focus on human-computer interaction has a long and rich history. As someone who has journeyed through this dynamic evolution, I've had the privilege of witnessing the field's remarkable growth.

In 1988, a pivotal moment arrived when Donald Norman published 'The Psychology of Everyday Things,' later updated to 'The Design of Everyday Things.' This seminal work has remained a cornerstone of UX design, delving into practical aspects like affordances, signifiers, feedback, and much more. For young designers like myself, Norman's User-Centered Design (UCD) principles and the work of Jakob Nielsen, who specialized in usability testing, served as a wellspring of inspiration.

With these principles as our foundation, my generation of UX designers ventured into a landscape heavily dominated by engineering. We pioneered and developed new methodologies to thrive in this challenging environment. Creative teams of the time were composed primarily of graphic designers, artists, writers, and HTML developers. CSS had not yet made its debut, so we had to rely on HTML tables for crafting precise and intensive user interfaces.

In those days, the web was far from dynamic, and every webpage had to be meticulously built. It wasn't until 1996 that CSS emerged, presenting a game-changing moment for us designers. CSS 1.0 brought a plethora of design capabilities, including font properties, color management, text attributes, alignment control, and much more. This technology shift meant we could finally break free from tables and embrace responsive, tableless UI design.

It's hard to overstate the significance of CSS 1.0; it liberated us to allocate more time to creating novel user experiences, unburdened by the constraints of table-based layouts. I distinctly recall the excitement and enthusiasm that filled the design community during this era. We eagerly embraced the possibilities that CSS offered, marking a significant turning point in the evolution of web design. 

Introduction of JavaScript, Adobe Photoshop & Adobe Dreamweaver


Circa 1995, while I was immersed in the world of web design and development, Brendan Eich made waves at Netscape Communications Corporation by introducing JavaScript. Back then, it went by the names 'Mocha' and 'LiveScript' before finding its lasting identity as 'JavaScript.' This development marked a pivotal moment for us UX designers and developers, empowering us to infuse dynamic and interactive behaviors into our web designs. This, in turn, ushered in a new era of web development, where user experiences became increasingly engaging and immersive.

As I recall those early days, it's worth noting that Adobe Photoshop, one of the earliest software applications for image editing, made its debut in February 1988. However, it wasn't until 1994, with the release of Photoshop version 3.0, that a groundbreaking feature arrived: support for layers. This innovation was a game-changer, allowing designers and editors like myself to work with multiple elements and adjustments in a non-destructive, incredibly flexible manner. These layers, now an integral part of digital image editing, have since provided precise control over the composition and design of images, forever transforming the way we craft visual content.

In the late '90s, precisely in December 1997, Adobe Dreamweaver made its debut on the web development scene. At that time, I was actively exploring the realms of web design and development. Dreamweaver, a versatile web development application, quickly caught our attention. It offered us UX designers and developers a powerful toolkit that seamlessly blended visual and code-based tools.

This unique fusion of visual and code-oriented capabilities was a game-changer. It allowed us to create and manage websites with unparalleled flexibility and efficiency. Dreamweaver swiftly became a favored choice in the world of web design and development, winning the hearts of professionals like myself. Its influence and popularity endured for many years, making it an indispensable tool in our quest to craft exceptional online experiences.

Introduction of the Fully Integrated Team, UX Design as a Services & 


In the late-'90s, a transformative shift occurred in the landscape of UX design and technology. This era marked a turning point where UX designers and the technical teams found common ground and began collaborating in earnest. As someone deeply involved in this period, my role extended to integrating User-Centered Design (UCD) and UX principles into projects, right from their conceptualization to the moment they went live.

However, bridging the gap between the creative and technical teams presented a unique set of challenges. The technical team often struggled to comprehend the intricacies of our UX work, just as we, UX designers, found it challenging to navigate their technical domain. Establishing mutual understanding was key.

In this dynamic tech environment, gaining recognition as UX designers and creatives was an uphill battle. To truly demonstrate our value in every project, we embarked on a journey of mutual learning. We set out to understand each other's strengths and expertise, with the common goal of delivering successful products for our clients.

One notable initiative to foster collaboration was the introduction of 'Pizza Fridays.' These casual gatherings served as safe spaces for breaking down the barriers that divided us. We realized that we had to work together, not as isolated entities, to thrive in this evolving landscape. This change in mindset became the cornerstone of our success.

Over time, having worked with various corporations and agencies, I grasped the profound significance of teamwork. It became evident that technical and creative individuals flourished when they shared the same physical space, especially alongside our clients. This new holistic approach was a game-changer. Client satisfaction became the heart of our work.

We began to work side by side, in the same room, alongside our clients and the technical and creative teams. A dedicated project manager emerged as the linchpin for managing projects and facilitating collaboration. This era was transformative and reshaped the way we designed and built products, emphasizing the power of collaboration, communication, and client-centricity

Introduction of the Agile Methodologies


In the early 2000s, my journey in UX design took an intriguing turn. This was the era when UX design was formally acknowledged as a vital service, gaining prominence within the offerings of companies and organizations. It was a pivotal moment that reshaped how we approached design within project workflows.

In those early days, we championed User-Centered Design (UCD) principles. UCD put users squarely in the center of the design process, placing a strong emphasis on research, user testing, and iterative design. It was a methodology that served us well, ensuring that our creations truly resonated with the needs and expectations of our users.

However, the evolving landscape of technology and project management ushered in a new paradigm: Agile. Agile methodologies brought to the forefront concepts like flexibility, collaboration, and rapid development cycles. The need for quicker product delivery, in response to the ever-changing digital landscape, fueled the rise of Agile.

This transition from UCD to Agile wasn't without its share of challenges. While UCD prioritized thorough research and meticulous planning, Agile favored shorter development sprints, ongoing feedback, and adaptability. It necessitated a recalibration of our processes to align with the Agile framework.

One of the most noticeable adjustments was the pace of our work. Agile's iterative nature meant that as UX designers, we had to collaborate more closely and swiftly with development teams. Design decisions often had to be made on shorter timelines, and user testing became more frequent but briefer in duration.

Within Agile, the role of user stories gained prominence. These succinct narratives encapsulated user needs and scenarios, acting as guiding lights for development. This shift reinforced the importance of empathizing with end users while adhering to Agile's agile and responsive development ethos.

From my perspective, this shift to Agile brought with it a sense of loss. Even today, I have reservations about whether it consistently serves the best interests of our users. This is a sentiment I hold dear. The balance between rapid development and ensuring an optimal user experience remains a challenge we grapple with.

Introduction of UX Specialized Model


In the mid-2000s, another significant transformation was afoot in the realm of UX design. It marked a transition from a holistic approach, characterized by individuals who wore many hats and understood the entire creative ecosystem, to a more specialized model. In those earlier days, we thrived on versatility and comprehending the entirety of the design process, navigating seamlessly through its various facets.

However, a noticeable shift occurred over time. The landscape of UX design teams started to evolve into structures that demanded a growing number of specialized roles. The days of being a multi-disciplinary designer were giving way to a model where teams required an array of experts, each responsible for specific tasks.

As someone who experienced both eras, I must admit to having mixed feelings about this evolution. While specialization brings a level of expertise and depth to individual areas of design, it also comes with some inherent challenges. For instance, the need for larger teams can sometimes introduce complexities in communication and coordination. Specialization can sometimes lead to a more segmented approach, potentially missing the holistic perspective that comes from wearing multiple hats.

This shift in the design landscape has sparked discussions among UX designer gurus and experts. Opinions vary, but some have expressed concerns about the potential drawbacks of extreme specialization. They argue that a well-rounded understanding of the entire design process can lead to more empathetic, user-centered designs.

However, it's important to note that the debate is ongoing. Some argue that specialization allows for greater depth of expertise in specific areas, which can ultimately benefit the user experience.

As for my own perspective, I find this new way of working, with its emphasis on specialization and larger teams, to be a departure from the more agile and versatile approach of the past. While it has its advantages, I believe it's important to strike a balance, ensuring that the specialized expertise complements rather than replaces the holistic understanding of the design process. Achieving that balance remains an ongoing challenge and an area of exploration in the ever-evolving field of UX design."