The Great History of User Experience – Part 2

Last Modified: Apr 14th, 2021 - Category: Essays, Theory, UX History, UX Research, UX Theory
3329 words, 17 minutes estimated read time.
History of User Experience Design Cover

This is the second part of the article about the history of user experience, which starts with User Experience History: More than 100 years of amazing wonders. If you came to this page from an external link or search engine, we recommend you start with the first part.

The history of user experience in digital age

By the mid-eighties, the history of UX design has come a long way from the initial first steps, which were dubious and mostly disorganized. The emergence of computers as something that almost everyone could have as a household appliance changed the technological status quo.

More speed, more power, more features. It is no longer just a few scientists using a computer to do calculations and share academic information. We now have millions of consumers asking for more and an industry willing to improve products and deliver better user experiences.

Therefore, the user experience had to adapt. The requirements for a better user experience grew exponentially. And, subsequently, the need to organize processes around these requirements. Which, in turn, led to the need to create better research methods to measure such experiences scientifically.

The history of UX in the digital age involves increasingly rapid and complex technological advances, with revolutionary changes that can happen within weeks of each other.

Many times it has been said that the 80s were the decade of excess. And in terms of technology and UX, we can clearly say that it was, without any doubt!

"Halt and Catch Fire" portrays the beginnings of digital age and the history of user experience through late 70s to early 90s
The “Halt and Catch Fire” series portrays the history of user experience in the dawn of the digital age in an entertaining and exciting way. Image by AMC, All rights reserved

1985 – The year of the great Operative Systems

The Great History of User Experience - Part 2 1
Apple System 2. By that time, this was completely revolutionary and many of its elements and UX concepts are still present in nowadays technology.

The first version of the Mac operating system (Mac OS) is released. It was notable for being one of the first systems with a graphical interface that had a mouse, windows, icons, and menus.

J. Gould and Clayton Lewis publish the influential article “Designing for Usability: Key Principles and What Designers Think“. In it, they propose a new approach to users, as well as empirical measurement and iterative design.

Richard Spenser’s Computer Usability Test and Evaluation published.

The Windows operating system is introduced, which begins to be used more widely thanks to its graphical user interface (also known as GUI) as a graphical extension of MS -DOS, which had a command-line based interface.

1986 – Usability measurement

John Brooke of Digital Equipment Corporation creates a “quick and dirty” questionnaire to assess the usability of the software. The System Usability Scale (SUS) is the most widely used questionnaire to assess perceptions of system usability.

SUS (System Usability Scale) page
You wouldn’t say it’s a great usability resource at first glimpse. Yet, it is really important for UX researchers

A few months after the annual SIGCHI conference in Boston, the first local SIGCHI chapter is formed there.

1987 – UX Theory and Virtual Reality

Ben Shneiderman publishes the first edition of Designing the User Interface, one of the cornerstones of user interface theory still in use today.

Peter Rowe publishes the book Design Thinking, describing the methods and approaches used by architects and urban planners. This term was an early use of what would become one of the most important UX frameworks and the forerunner for Urban UX

The “Questionnaire on Satisfaction with User Interaction” (QUIS) is published. This is based on the work of Ben Shneiderman’s HCI lab at the University of Maryland and is a competitor to SUS. However, they have a big difference: QUIS uses a Semantic Differential approach, while SUS uses a Likert scale. While similar in the surface, this research methodology makes both of them completely different.

UX design history: QUIS example
Nobody will ever say that research tools are very fond of aesthetics

Nintendo launches the Famicom 3D system and Sega develops the Master System, both virtual reality headsets with shutter lenses.

Larry Well invents Perl, the first programming language for developing web applications, even before the Internet was available to the general public.

1988 – UX Research gets deep theoretical rules

John Whiteside of Digital Equipment Corporation and John Bennett of IBM publish several chapters and articles in “Usability Engineering” (Whiteside, Bennett & Holtzblatt, 1988) that emphasize initial goal setting, prototyping, and iterative evaluation. This is the starting point for most UX methodologies down the road.

Joe Dumas, one of the godfathers of usability, sees this period as the birth of usability as a profession.

Don Norman publishes The Psychology of Everyday Things, later called Design of Everyday Things.

The Design of Everyday Things: a book that changed UX design history
Some of the books in our design library. Of course, the Design of Everyday Things is there!

1990 – The WWW revolution begins

Jakob Nielsen Rolf Molich publishes the seminal article “Heuristic Evaluation of User Interface” in which they describe this influential method of discount usability.

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee develops Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) 0.9, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the first web browser (called WorldWideWeb, which was also a page editor web), the first HTTP application server (later known as CERN httpd), the first web server (, and the first web pages describing the project itself. These achievements marks a no turning back point in the history of user experience design and especially in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

Robert Virzi describes three experiments at the Society for Human Factors and Ergonomics conference that replicate Nielsen’s earlier work using the binomial formula to derive sample sizes for usability studies.

Purchases of high-tech devices (computers, communication devices, instruments) accounted for 20 percent of all commercial investments and drove up the penetration of personal computers in the population.

Shackel publishes “Human Factors and Usability” in which usability is defined as a function of efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction (ISO 9241 item 11). These three aspects are still the most important when it comes to usability today.

1991 – The World Wide Web is conceived as a public network

Berners-Lee posts a brief summary of the World Wide Web project to the alt.hypertext newsgroup, envisioning the beginning of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet.

1992 – First mobile phone

Jim Lewis publishes the Post-Study System Usability Questionnaire (PSSUQ) .

History of User experience: Simon, thefirst Mobile Phone
Simon, the first mobile phone ever had a way more advanced user interface than later devices

IBM and BellSouth jointly launch the IBM Simon Personal Communicator , the first mobile phone with PDA functionality (Personal Digital Assistant). The phone could send and receive voice calls and also served as an address book, calculator, and fax. It was the first device that provided the building blocks for the development of all subsequent smartphones.

1993 – The first search engine

Usability Engineering is published by Jakob Nielsen . In addition, Joe Dumas and Ginny Redish publish a practical guide to usability testing.

Publication of the SUMI questionnaire (Software Usability Measurement Inventory) by Jurek Kirakowski at the University of Cork.

1994 – First web browser and more usability theory

Publishing the Reasons for Usability Costs of Randolph Bias and Deborah Mayhew .

Jim Lewis reviews Virzi’s studies and comments in the article “Sample Sizes for Usability Studies: Additional Considerations” and finds general support for the claim that additional users are less likely to reveal new information, but the sample size depends on the occurrence of the problem. He also found that the severity and frequency of the problem are independent.

Jeff Rubin published “Usability Testing Guide: Planning, Designing, and Performing Effective Tests”

Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark launch Netscape Navigator, which works with the emerging World Wide Web and is the first commercial browser.

Sega launches Sega VR -1, a motion simulator that includes a helmet with three-dimensional polygon graphics and tracking of head movements.

1995 – Internet Explorer and PHP are born

Don Norman, Godfather of Ease of Use, uses the term User Experience to describe the wide variety of activities his team at Apple Computers has been involved in.

Altavista, developed by Digital Equipment Corporation, was one of the most popular search engines, thanks to its multilingual search and because it allowed multimedia searches. Altavista ranked first as a navigation index.

Microsoft has been developing the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser for the Microsoft Windows operating system since 1995. It was first released as part of Plus! for Windows 95. Because it was integrated into the Windows package, it received a major advantage and dethroned the Netscape browser, which required a separate installation.

Rasmus Lerdorf makes the PHP language available to the public. This was the starting signal for the development of web applications.

Jeff Bezos introduces Amazon primarily as an e-commerce platform for books.

1996 – First webmail and proto-smartphone

John Brooke releases System Usage Scale (SUS) after 10 years in the industry.

WebEx is founded in California and continues to develop conferencing and screen-sharing software for moderate remote usability testing.

Palm Inc. launches Palm Pilot 1000 and 5000, representing the first generation of PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) or handheld PCs.

Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith launch Hotmail, one of the first Webmail services on the Internet. Free storage was limited to 2 MB.

1997 – The first WYSIWYG creator in the history of UX design.

Netscape Communications Corporation released Netscape Composer, a Web page editor that provided a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) environment and was distributed with the Netscape Navigator Web browser. Composer allowed users to edit HTML code, check spelling, publish Web pages, and supported major types of Web formatting.

Composer was the grandfather of WordPress’ Gutenberg, WIX, Squarespace, and other systems and services in common use today. It allowed users to create pages without any technical knowledge, leading to an explosion of websites, most of which were hosted on free hosting services.

1998 – The busiest year in the history of UX?

Usability becomes the standard, integrated into ISO 9241 item 11.

“Web Navigation: User Experience Design” is published, one of the books in a new wave using the term “User Experience”.

Rolf Molich leads the first Comparative Usability Study (CUE).

Larry Page and Sergey Brin found Google Inc. and the most important search engine to date, far surpassing the previous web search engine Altavista. Originally named Backrub, it had a the photo of a hand in black and white and the word Backrub in red. The name was changed to Google and the ret is history

The Great History of User Experience - Part 2 2
The first Google logo, made in GIMP

Netscape launches the open source Mozilla project to compete with Internet Explorer, currently the most widely used browser.

Netscape Navigator announces new Javascript technology that allows the content of a web page to change dynamically.

Flash consolidates as a tool for the development of interactive web applications and a turning point is reached when the President Clinton scandal is broadcast as news online, for the first time before television, initiating online journalism.

Originally launched as Confinity by founders Max Levhin, Peter Thiel, Like Nosek and Ken Howery, PayPal makes its appearance on the e-commerce stage as a money transfer tool.

1999 – Accessibility and Wi-Fi

The first BlackBerry mobile device appears as a two-way pager. It had a full QWERTY keyboard and could be used to send and receive text messages, emails and pages.

The companies 3Com, Airones, Intersil, Lucent Technologies, Nokia and Symbol Technologies join forces to develop the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance or WECA, now called Wi-Fi Alliance.

WCAG 1.0 is published and becomes a W3C recommendation.

2000 – Don’t make me think of Bluetooth

Steve Krug ‘s Don’t Make me Think is out, bringing usability testing to the masses using the same Ericson and Simon Think Aloud method as 20 years ago.

Google Adwords was introduced to allow e-commerce businesses to advertise to people using Google search. This is also the beginning of the PPC (pay per click) concept

Bluetooth logo

The Ericsson T36 phone introduces Bluetooth technology to the mobile world, allowing consumers to wirelessly connect their phones to their computers.

2001 – Wikipedia and iPods

Steve Jobs launches the iPod, a line of portable digital audio players, along with the iTunes media player and multimedia content storage.

Wikipedia logo
The current Wikipedia logo

The Wikipedia project is launched, an online encyclopedia that enables collaboration and editing among Internet users and provides massive knowledge sharing to the public around the world.

2002 – Remote Usability Testing Theory

The first publications on remote usability testing appear, including Tom Tullis et al. on “An empirical comparison between remote usability tests and the website laboratory“.

2004 – The year of Firefox and Gmail

After going through various names for a few years, the now standalone Netscape web browser, Mozilla Firefox, was created.

UX design history: Image of the current Mozilla Firefox front page
Mozilla Firefox front page

Google launches its own mail service, Gmail, with larger storage, faster speed, and more flexible user interface, far surpassing the most popular mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo! mail.

At a Web 2.0 conference, the concept of the Web as a platform is solidified, suggesting collaborative user participation. This would completely change the paradigm of the Internet.

2005 – Google Maps and Android

Google introduces Google Maps, one of the most important free features used by users and businesses since its creation.

UX history changed with the launch of Android
With the launch of Android, UX hostory would never be the same

This year Google buys Android Inc. and with it a move that would change technology forever

2007 – iPhone revolutionizes the history of UX

Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld 2007, calling it a “breakthrough product” that would be much easier to use than any other smartphone on the market. This event changed the mobile landscape forever and led Apple to its current position as one of the most successful companies in the world. Apple replaced the traditional keyboard with a multi-touch keyboard that allowed customers to use their fingers to operate the phone’s tools: Click links, zoom in /out on photos, and scroll through albums using haptic technology. It was also the first device to offer a full, unrestricted version of the Internet. The first iPhone gave customers the ability to browse the web as they would on a desktop computer.

iPhone image, a cornerstone in UX design
The first iPhone (By Rafael Fernandez – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Open Handset Alliance is formed, a conglomerate of hardware, software and service provider manufacturers and developers. On the same day, the first version of the operating system was announced: Android 1.0 Apple Pie.

2008 – Introduction of WCAG 2.0

Tom Tullis and Bill Albert publish Measuring the User Experience, the first book on usability measurement, which has become increasingly qualitative over the past decade.

Accessibility guidelines WCAG 2.0 is published as a W3C recommendation. It consists of twelve non-verifiable guidelines organized under four principles (websites must be perceptible, usable, understandable, and robust). Each guideline has verifiable success criteria.

2009 – First cryptocurrency

Bitcoin logo
Bitcoin, the first crypto-currency

This year saw the emergence of a new crazy concept: cryptocurrency. It started with the creation of Bitcoin, the first decentralized cryptocurrency

2010 – First Android phone and Instagram

ISO 9241-210: 2010 is published. This standard provides requirements and recommendations for human-centered design principles and activities throughout the life cycle of interactive computer-based systems.

Google unveils its first mobile phone, the Nexus One, which runs on Android. In December, it unveils its second phone, the Nexus S, which is made by Samsung.

Instagram is born. The app turned us all into professional photographers and changed the way we experience and share our lives with other users.

2011 – Uber goes out

While Uber was founded in 2009, the app and ride-hailing service first launched in 2011 at San Francisco, which is considered its first public appearance. Loved and disliked in equal measure, Uber would go on to change the history of user experience by creating systems that were copied by many other industries, from transportation to food delivery.

Note: you can check Uber Design Guidelines on our site.

2012 – UXPA is born

UPA changes its name to User Experience Professionals Association (UxPA)

Sauro and Lewis publish the first book on statistical analysis of usability data (now in its second edition): Quantifying User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research

The Great History of User Experience - Part 2 3
Oculus Rift DK1 By Sebastian Stabinger – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Palmer Luckey presents the first prototype of the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift as a Kickstarter project. The prototype was known as Oculus Rift Development Kit 1 (simplified as DK1 )

2013 – Chromecast is created

Chromecast from Google made wireless streaming from mobile devices to TV as easy as a few clicks, and at a very affordable price. This product started the era of smart TV, which is now ubiquitous in most homes.

The 4G protocol (introduced in 2009) is spreading around the world. There’s no consensus on the real date of appearance since first versions weren’t recognized as real 4G.

2014 – Today’s most important OS is created, but…

The Great History of User Experience - Part 2 4

In 2014 and after the disaster of Windows 8 (and a ghost Windows 9 that never saw the light of day), Microsoft desperately needed new life for its flagship product. Windows 10 proved to be the solution they needed. However, users were so disappointed with everything Windows that it took 5 years (until January 2019 to be exact) to topple Windows 7 and become the world’s most popular OS. And to do so, Microsoft had to announce they would discontinue support for Windows 7, probably one of thebest Windows versions ever.

2015 – AlphaGO and Deep Learning: the dawn of Big Data

In 2014, Google bought DeepMind, an AI company, to go deep into Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. AlphaGo demonstrated its strength in 2015 by defeating Lee Sedol, the top ranked Go player in the world. It later became the top-ranked chess player in the world.

DeepMind AI is the engine that powers most of the most important data on the web, from consumer behavior to user research, from maps to IoT. It’s also what drove the creation of Quantum UX, the first chapters of which were created in the same year.

2018 – XBox meets accessibility

Photo of Xbox Adaptive Controller
Xbox Adaptive Controller: Simple, beautiful, accessible. Everything that is right in UX design.

Microsoft’s gaming powerhouse, XBox, took a big leap towards accessibility with Xbox Adaptive Controller. The customizable interface is designed for gamers with disabilities and features two large buttons that can be reprogrammed to function as any of the standard Xbox controller buttons. One of the most important examples of Quantum UX application to physical design.

2019 – Welcome Genomics and Precision Medicine.

Genomics and Precision Medicine is a high-tech branch of medicine that Health UX will dive deep into in the near future. In 2019, such technology showed promising results in treating blood disorders like sickle cell anemia and other genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy. According to some, CRISPR technology could correct up to 89% of disease-causing genetic variations in the future.

South Korea was the first country to launch 5G. Just hours later, Verizon launched its 5G services in the United States, disputing South Korea claims to be the first country in the world with a 5G network.

2020 – Covid-19 pandemic urges quick solutions

The year 2020 began with the worst health crisis in modern human history: the Covid-19 pandemic.

The need for isolation for health reasons and access to goods caused many businesses to go bankrupt. However, e-commerce experienced its greatest growth ever, and home office work became the new standard, changing the way economic power shifts at low and middle socioeconomic levels.

Conclusion: A story that will never end

This is a very brief snippet of the history of user experience design. You will probably think of many things we have left out. Some of it by accident, some of it because we needed to make the article readable.

Either way, as long as anyone is just thinking about designing a product or service, user experience knowledge will feed that creation and be fed back with the new data.

We are in a new world. A world waiting for a miraculous cure. A world waiting to get its usual life back. AI, Big Data and Machine Learning will be the superstars of this renaissance. And that’s the point we’re all looking at.

And AC said: “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” And there was light

Isaac Asimov, The Last question (1956)

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