Did UX Exist Before Don Norman?
The origin of human contradictions and complexity are still the same
Biface is a silex stone carved more than 1,7 milion years. It is shaped like an almond and it's usually 15 cm height. The broad range of functionalities and the fact that it fits in a pocket turn biface in the Swiss Army knife of that age.
100% usable. It meets most of Palaeolithic daily needs. Depending on how you grab it, it has a function or another: drilling, cutting, digging or pounding. Four-in- one. It is also portable and it is designed to be used with only one hand. An ergonomic prodigy that might be the bedrock of many current objects.
From a functional point of view, biface is a clear example of Louis Sullivan’s “form follows function” and the behaviour layer that Don Norman explains in his book “Emotional design”.
You can drill, cut, dig or pound. biface is portable and it is designed to be used with only one hand.
If we notice its shape, we can see that biface is pretty much symmetrical. The top spike, the sharp sides, or the inside bend to dig can follow strictly a functional purpose but, it cannot be denied that it doesn’t have to be fully symmetrical to digging up the soil or fighting against a lion.
Usability was not enough, aesthetic intention was clear.
Travel back in time. Imagine a hominid entertaining in the darkness of the cave. Cutting silex carefully and creating an almost symmetrical shape. Balancing the visual weight between the wide part and the thinner part. Taking it with his hands and allowing other hominids to try - first guerrilla test in the history-.
He would surely repeat the action until he had been finally satisfied with the feedback of his mates, until he finds it beautiful.
Most of the pieces found, even in different continents, follow a very similar proportion. As if an innate aesthetic pattern conditioned each hit the hominid did when it came to building it. This coincidence shows that aesthetic patterns are not related with our culture or consciousness. As Don Norman says, the visceral or aesthetic layer is instinctive, global.
It doesn’t have to be fully symmetrical to digging up the soil or fighting against a lion.
One of the most most curious facts about the biface is that most of the ones found have never been used, they are new. And the main reason has to do with the reflective layer of Don Norman and the human obsession to give meaning to objects. In fact, this layer is the strategic axis of UX designers and their control is what differentiates us more from the functional analyst, the usability expert or the visual designer.
Back to the past. While the hominid Alfa goes out to watch his domain and possibly fights with the Alfa's side pack. Inside the cave, another Beta specimen, dying of boredom, designs and builds the first biface. It is surely the first technological tool. And instead of going out and digging, cutting or punching, he removes the dust and approaching a female, tells her ...
"Hello, have you seen that I have got? Do you want us to try it out?"
A good product or digital service must combine the aesthetic, functional and reflective layers. Like a biface.
Because at that age, more technology meant more survival. And to show a tool like that, meant more reproduction. This is how the genes of that first technologist were extended so far. And that is why, now you are sitting reading this text online. We are all children of that bearded engineer and you are a programmer, architect or designer, over the last 3 years, your DNA has dragged the 3 layers of Don Norman, the 3 layers of the biface.
The user experience design has taken more importance in the technology field because even if technology has evolved unimaginably by that first hominid, the root of human contradictions and complexities remain virtually the same. Technology is no longer a carved stone. It currently surpasses understanding and human capacities. For this reason, the UX strategy and design are key when it comes to scaling technological or digital products and services to human needs and aspirations.
That is why we still see people parking a convertible in front of a club or buying branded clothes. In fact, it is not hard to see the similarities between that biface and a current mobile phone. The mobile also satisfies our daily needs, has an attractive aesthetic - it is symmetrical - and we love it to be a brand that conveys values which we feel identified with. Either a FairPhone, a Pixel or last generation iPhone.
It has been almost two million years since that first technologist was struggling with his new biface and, at the moment, we continue to behave in a very similar way. We keep teaching our new mobile and we keep saying...
"Hey, have you seen what I have? Do you want us to go out to make a selfie? "
We have work for at least 1 milion years more ;)
This text is created from several sources. The first one, the most inspiring, is from Marc Boada - I recommend you his book “The three infinites” or that he explains you the evolutionary theory from a paella-. The second, a speech of Stefan Sagmeister claiming the role of aesthetic in KIKK Festival 2016. Finally, Don Norman and his book “Emotional Design” that any time that I read it I learn something new.