© STEVE GODFREY, UX Designer, Allovus Design
First, a bit of simplified visual history. In the beginning, there was Graphic Design. Graphic Designers could make logos and designs that appeared on things. Cave dwellers did great wildlife symbols that told stories. Aztecs had terrific graphic symbols that look good on T-shirts to this day. Monks with specialized skill sets created egg tempura masterpieces on bible pages that looked good, and kept the readers interested (I am told this job did not pay well, but the benefits were okay).
From “Wanted” Posters in the old west to billboards that communicate in two seconds on the freeway, visual designers inform users of important matters. Think about the “men’s room” or “women’s room” icons on bathroom doors. Very important in every culture. The need for good design is understood.
Then, personal computers came along and changed everything. When personal computers arrived, they were much easier to use than the previous code-based interfaces. They boasted the ability to click important things with a mouse, and move items on a page. (How cool is that?) Productivity increased, and people rejoiced.
Eventually, human factor professionals began questioning the assumptions that developers were making regarding the…User Experience. They asked questions, they did research, and began discovering important things:
- Long pages were not necessarily better than short ones.
- “Blinking” objects on pages DID get attention, but distracted users from reviewing the rest of the pages.
- Sound effects when buttons were pressed annoyed people.
- Darker text against a lighter background was easier to read than light text on a darker background.
Of course, I am over-simplifying here – there is a lot more to this. But still, some circles were becoming aware that a good user experience mattered to people, and helped sell products.
Apple Computers began making products and applications simpler. For the mass consumer, the question of “does it work?” changed to, “Is it easy to use?” Slowly, ease of use became…important.
And then…the Web. Pretty awful stuff. In in the beginning, it was not easy to create web sites. Developers could deal with the complexity of domain names, web hosts, browser compatibility, downtime, uptime, and all the thorny issues that most “average” people were a bit intimidated by.
So, by necessity, developers created a lot of the original web sites. The developers worked directly with their clients, who found it fun and exciting to art-direct these new sites and find their “inner creative director.” However, this was often at the cost of a good experience for the user.
Frankly, many websites created in the early days of the internet were simply…awful (especially by today’s standards). It took a while for visual designers to be pulled into the mix, and longer still for user-centric specialists to make their way into teams that created the applications or websites.
Eventually, some very good sites demonstrated a good user experience: Dell Computers, Yahoo and Amazon all led the way in creating websites that helped users accomplish tasks easily, and inspired others to follow suite. For an online business, they learned that professional, easy-to-use sites make users feel more confident. As users were exposed to these well thought out consumer experiences, it became less acceptable to tolerate confusing applications in their business environment. Companies took note.
COMING NEXT: THE USER INTERFACE DESIGNER