Let's take a brief trip back in time to explore the origins of modern interaction design for the devices in our lives today. This is not a trip into recent history. Rather, we can look back over the history of humankind to see how we created tools and methods for recording information, such as painting and writing, manipulating information, such as triangulating and calculating, and communicating, such as printing and transmitting. Each of the following historical moments has led to where we are today. We are able to record, manipulate, and share information about anything, at any time, with anyone.
Almost two and a half million years ago, we began manipulating our environment with the first stone tools. Some of the oldest ever found are from the Olduvai Gorge. As hunter-gatherers, we relied on these stones just to stay alive, but spoken languages began to emerge and evolve. About 100,000 years ago, we started to communicate more effectively with each other. We relied on oral histories and personal contact to communicate information, but our inner creativity, and the need to share information with others, or even just record our shared stories and experiences, led us to begin drawing, and about 16,000 years ago some particularly talented ancestors recorded their stories for us on the walls of Lascaux cave.
It would take nearly 14,000 years for literal drawings and pictures to become the symbols, letters, and words that would make up the first written languages. Sumerian cuneiform text in clay, Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus, and Babylonian maps, are among our oldest written records. Around the same time, we see our first tool for manipulating information: the abacus, which made math easier. Once we began writing down information, drawing maps of the world around us, and making complex calculations easier, our knowledge expanded rapidly.
Around 300 years before the common era, or BCE, the Royal Library of Alexandria was founded as a repository of information. We were recording so much information that we needed to organize, store, and create a system for making it available and findable. Our mechanical skills quickly improved. Soon we were measuring time and distance with clocks and astrolabes, as well as calculating the dates of future astronomical events with the Antikythera mechanism; our first mechanical computer.
Our initial measurements of time and distance were crude, but our clocks, compasses, and calendars improved. Our knowledge of the world continued to grow rapidly, and we could no longer efficiently capture and store information just by hand writing and hand copying books. The introduction of Gutenberg's printing press in 1440 suddenly made it possible to record more information, and make it available to more people than ever before. Our exploration of the world, the development of the scientific method, and the abundance of information being created required even more elaborate and capable mechanical calculators, like the slide rule, and the Stepped Reckoner, to help us make sense of it all.
Charles Babbage's Difference Engine in 1822 was our first step toward programmable computers. And in the decades after this, we saw the invention of the first photographs for capturing a realistic visual record, as well as both the telegraph, and the telephone. We no longer needed to physically transport books, or personally travel, to access information; we could now transmit information nearly instantly over vast distances. Photography, telegraphy, and telephony advanced quickly, and in 1897, the first wireless transmissions over radio were made by Nikola Tesla.
The inventions and advancements of the industrial age generated huge amounts of visual, verbal, and written information, and by 1910, Paul Otlet recognized the need for a system to organize all of it, so he created the Mundaneum to gather and classify all of the world's knowledge. The Mundaneum has been called the forerunner of the Internet, because of its attempt to connect everything meaningfully. Meanwhile, technology progressed rapidly, and our mechanical calculators and computers began to be replaced with electronics.
First came vacuum tubes, which made television signals possible, and which powered the world's first electronic computers during World War II. The war also pushed many technological advancements, and changed the way we thought about computers, and what they can do for us. In 1945, Vannevar Bush published an important essay, As We May Think, in which he proposed that we need to create a machine, which he called the Memex, that would become our collective memory, store information, and make it accessible to us, so that we would be less likely to repeat the mistakes of our past.
He wanted to transform the information explosion into a knowledge explosion, and he may have sowed the seeds of the Internet. In 1947, the transistor was introduced, and the world of electronics began to shrink. Televisions began to appear in our homes, and radios could be carried with us. In the 1950s, we sent our first manmade objects into space, and just a few years later, in 1962, Telstar started the era of satellite communications. We could now transmit even more information, more quickly, across longer distances than ever before.
The late 1960s were an important period, because Douglas Engelbart gave his Mother of All Demos, in which he showed us his vision of the modern computer, complete with a mouse. And in 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, also known as ARPANET, was launched. It would go on to become the basis for today's Internet. The arrival of the Intel microprocessor in 1971 ushered in the next era of miniaturization. And it wasn't long before we saw the first digital watches, and computer video games.
We could now report vast quantities of information, process it, and make it available all around the world. Advances in technology moved very quickly from here. The Xerox Alto was the first personal computer meant for businesses, and the Altair 8800 was the first computer sold as a do-it-yourself kit to hobbyists. This showed that there was a home market. 1977 was a big year, because three of the first truly personal computers, as well as the Atari 2600 gaming system, were all introduced.
These early computers had command line interfaces, and often needed to be programmed, so their appeal and usefulness was limited, but computers were in the home. Just a few years later, the mobile phone was introduced to the public, and in 1984, the Apple Macintosh arrived. Although the Xerox Alto was the first graphical user interface, the Macintosh was the first computer to bring that interface into the home. Suddenly computers became easier to use and understand. By the late 1980s, computers were becoming commonplace, portable gaming devices were everywhere, and Tim Berners-Lee had drafted his proposal for an interconnected network of computers for sharing information based on hypertext.
On August 6, 1991, CERN launched the world's first Web site, based on the proposal of Tim Berners-Lee, and the Web was born. Mosaic, the first Web browser, was launched in 1993, and just two years later, the browser wars began, as millions and millions of people got on the Web. In the meantime, mobile phones merged with digital cameras, personal computers became portable, commercial GPS data became available, and the digital music players were everywhere.
We could talk, send text messages, capture photos, locate ourselves, get directions, and take our music and games with us. Suddenly we had the ability to record, manipulate, and communicate and share information, with the electronic tools in our pockets. As these devices evolved and improved, we also saw a shift from indirect actions, such as command line interfaces, and using computer mice, to more direct action, such as touching and moving the icons directly on a screen.
And most recently, we've seen the introduction of spatial gestures. We no longer even need to use a mouse, or touch a screen, to interact with our devices. It's been a long 2.4 million years, and we've come a long way, but in the end, we are still just trying to record, manipulate, and share information. The tools are different, and continually changing, but our needs are the same, and as interaction designers, our goal is to make certain that these tools never get in the way.
- Understanding the origins of interaction design
- Understanding gestalt principles
- Designing with grids
- Understanding design patterns
- Exploring how people respond to motion and color
- Communicating through labels and icons
- Framing for content and decision making
- Understanding mental models
- Avoiding cognitive overload
- Defining behavior for interaction design
- Designing for clicks and taps
- Understanding the feedback cycle
- Professional resources