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When did people start talking about User Experience as a role/domain similar to the way that it's used today?

The earliest reference I can find is the Norman, Miller, Henderson CHI 95 piece on Apple's set up (Donald Norman, Jim Miller, Austin Henderson: What You See, Some of What's in the Future, And How We Go About Doing It: HI at Apple Computer. Proceedings of CHI 1995, Denver, Colorado, USA)

Anything earlier?

[Edit - after @Andrew's nice answer we have 1993 as an earlier date

"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 a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual." - Don Norman


(I'm writing a talk on communities of practice relating to UX - and want to get my time lines right ;-)

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The question needs to pin down 'What is the current meaning of User Experience'... –  PhillipW Oct 16 '12 at 9:44

6 Answers 6

Peter Merholz actually did a very thorough investigation into the term "User Experience". http://www.peterme.com/index112498.html

It looks like the earliest recorded usage was meeting notes from 1993 by a colleague of Donald Norman's at Apple. The notes imply that Norman changed the job title "User Interface Architect" to "User Experience Architect". Norman has discussed inventing the term in interviews.

The term "user's experience" was used by Brenda K. Laurel in "Interface as Mimesis" (from Norman & Draper's User Centered Systems Design, 1986).

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That's great stuff Andrew - thanks. –  adrianh Oct 16 '12 at 8:06
And I actually had the Norman and Draper book too. Branda Laurel uses talks about the user experience - but it's not used in the context of a role/domain. Good stuff though. Thanks. –  adrianh Oct 16 '12 at 8:22

The first record (I could find) on User Experience comes from Mark Twain’s “Nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction” written in 1895. These 19 rules could easily be transferred to writing for the web today which is a part of User Experience. Here are some of them:

(1) That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

(4) They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

(5) The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

(13) Use the right word, not its second cousin.

(14) Eschew surplusage.

(15) Not omit necessary details.

(17) Use good grammar.

(18) Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Mark Twain did not use the phrase User Experience, but it’s easy to see that this is what he actually meant.

General disclaimer: I’ve interpreted the question to a slightly different meaning, and when you read the answer you should think of it as an answer to the question When was User Experience first used? which could be useful for adrianh’s talk on “communities of practice relating to UX”.

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Nice. Thank you ;) –  adrianh Oct 19 '12 at 10:16

I want to point out this publication:


Thinking-aloud in user interface design: a method promoting cognitive ergonomics

Ergonomics, Volume 33, Issue 4, 1990

The abstract:

The thinking-aloud method has been used successfully in user interface research. The present study investigates the application of the method for user interface design. The study is based on interviews with nine systems designers who had used the method in design practice. Their application ofthe method wasin general very successful. This paper focuses on a unique property of this method: its inherent promotion of cognitive ergonomics due to the timely, genuine and applicable feedback to the designers in the design context.

This extract shows, that in the context of the paper the thinking-aloud method was used to get feedback on user interfaces:

The thinking-aloud method consists in having a user working with a computer system (prototype, paper mock-up or documentation) while 'thinking-aloud', i.e., spontaneously (or prompted) verbalizing ideas, facts, plans, beliefs, expectations, doubt, anxiety, etc. that comes to mind during the work. Typically a scenario is developed for the tests, i.e., an artificial work context with specific tasks that can be accomplished by means of the system.

The term "user experience" is also explicitly mentioned in a citation:

One of the most striking results of the application of the thinking-aloud method is the value of the feedback the designers get in context, thereby overcoming one of the main problems with the formal methods (limitation of scope) and informal guidelines (mismatch between the normative guidelines and the design context at hand). Whiteside and Wixon (1987) put it thus:

 Usability, ultimately, lives in user experience.
 Therefore usability engineering must be grounded in experience.
 Usability engineering provides tools for uncovering user experience (p. 17).

The reference to which Jorgensen refers to is:

WHITESIDE, J. and WIXON, D. 1987,The dialectic of usability engineering, in H.-J. Bullinger and B. Shackel (eds) Proceedings oj Human-Computer lnteraction-s-lNTERACT '87, (Elsevier, North-Holland), 17-20.

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Thanks and good find. –  adrianh Oct 22 '12 at 9:45

In terms of 'what it means today' its really only been around since 2005.

Here's the Wikipedia history for it:


Don Norman uses the term in his 1999 Book: The Invisible Computer

Here's the 1999 Amazon review of the book:

Technologies have a life cycle, says Donald Norman, and companies and their products must change as they pass from youth to maturity. Alas, the computer industry thinks it is still in its rebellious teenage years, exulting in technical complexity. Customers want change. They are ready for products that offer convenience, ease of use, and pleasure. The technology should be invisible, hidden from sight.In this book, Norman shows why the computer is so difficult to use and why this complexity is fundamental to its nature. The only answer, says Norman, is to start over again, to develop information appliances that fit people's needs and lives. To do this companies must change the way they develop products.

They need to start with an understanding of people: user needs first, technology last--the opposite of how things are done now. Companies need a human-centered development process, even if it means reorganizing the entire company.

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I beg to differ on the 2005 front. I know I was using it before that - and the question included a reference to a 1995 usage in the same context ;-) –  adrianh Oct 16 '12 at 8:08
Was Don's usage in 1995 what we'd recognise as UX nowadays Adrian ? Although Jakob used a different term back in 1993 the approach he was mapping out was pretty similar to current practice: useit.com/jakob/useengbook.html –  PhillipW Oct 16 '12 at 9:40
This answer should ideally clarify the difference between the pre-2005 usage and the post-2005 usage - at the moment it just mentions that there is one. –  user568458 Oct 16 '12 at 9:41
@PhillipW - yes it was. I'll edit the answer with a quote. It's the term "UX" I'm after tracking - not the working practices (the working practices were around long before the term was ;-) –  adrianh Oct 17 '12 at 8:38
As an aside Adrian, in the Invisible Computer Don uses the abbreviation UE. The UX abbreviation seemed to appear during the last decade. I've often wondered whether it was inspired by Windows XP (eXPerience)... –  PhillipW Oct 17 '12 at 10:16

SHARE was created in 1955 in LA by IBM 701 users it was a volunteer-run user group that exchanged information about OS, database systems and user experience.


It might be even earlier if we are talking about user experience not limited to computers

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Just to be clear what I'm after is references to words "User Experience" being applied in the same way it is now (see example in question). There was undoubtedly stuff that, today, we would call UX before 1995... I want to know when we started calling it UX. –  adrianh Oct 19 '12 at 10:37

I think the danger of this type of question is that it can identify when a term was first used, without consideration to whether the term meant the same thing then as now. For a formalised definition, we need to turn to ISO 9241-210, which defines user experience as:

"a person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service".

According to the ISO definition this includes all the users' emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use. The ISO also list 3factors that influence user experience: system, user and the context of use.

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Standards are awful for historical references - standards are made after folk start doing things... that's why they're standards ;-) –  adrianh Oct 19 '12 at 10:17
Oh, absolutely - the problem is, without a standard definition, what one person thinks UX is can be wildly different to what another person thinks it is, so the 'doing' part can be graphic design or coding rather than what we think of as UX :) –  Peter Oct 19 '12 at 12:14

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