As we ponder the passages of time and look back over human evolution, technology has arguably had one of the most significant impacts; not just upon our daily lives, but indeed, how we now live out our entire lives.
Reflecting, in particular on the current COVID-19 crisis, people are often thankful for the level of technology we enjoy today. The technology that enables us to communicate with loved ones, exchange emails, social media message, that helps teachers facilitate learning, children to learn from home and media correspondents to broadcast live across our television networks from their front rooms! The very technology that is now woven into the fabric of our every day lives, that enables global collaboration for scientific research, international banking and worldwide business and commerce. Wow, how clever and modern we are! A brief comparison of our current lockdown situation to our technology and society from even just 10 years ago, things would be very different.
So, where did it all begin? Where did all this technology come from? Is it really that new?
This is my very brief overview of the history of the Internet, World Wide Web and UX design in a nutshell for my 10-minute presentation at Uno Business Networking on Thursday 23rd April 2020.
Internet and World Wide Web brief history
Back in 1957 the Russians launched their first rocket, Sputnik. This caused significant concern for many countries, including the USA who were gravely concerned about the potential for “space wars”. Now, just for clarity, when I say space wars I’m not referring to spaceships, lasers and intergalactic galaxy hoping as you may well expect to see in a modern science fiction like Star Wars. The concern was that a rocket could carry a missile that could be fired from altitudes way beyond the reach of conventional military aircraft, or even from space itself. Not only could such an attack go undetected until it was to late, but a targeted and successful attack could disseminate the USA’s Department of Defences military communications and limit their response to further ground-based attacks. This was serious. So much so, that the 34th President of the United Stated of America, Eisenhower, instructed the USA’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) to respond; strengthening military communications and ensuring that the USA could respond robustly from any such attack. And that is what they did.
In 1969 Scientists at the University of California successfully connected two computers together enabling communication, the ARPANet (Advanced Research Project Agency Network) was born. This new form of communication utilised packet switching technology enabling multiple computers to communicate on a single network and information to be sent and received via many different routes, as opposed to one single and direct line of communication – a significant advantage in any military scenario.
In the years that followed computing capability grew, a plethora of protocols were developed and the reliability of computer networks improved. Computer networks expanded geographically and moved from a technology reserved for just the military, becoming accessible to academic, scientific and research institutions.
Lets fast forward to 1989. This 1960’s network had grown and was now truly International. A British Scientist by the name of Tim Burnes-Lee (now Sir) was working at CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, located near Geneva on the French / Swiss boarder.
Burnes Lee had access to the International Network (A good time to point out that Internet stands for International Network and therefore should be spelt Internet, not internet). Seeing the potential to aid his scientific work Burns Lee knew that this network could be used for collaboration, the only trouble was that you had to be a real computer boffin to use it. Burnes Lee created Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML), a form of code that is used to create electronic documents, or pages. If you knew HTML, you could create, disseminate, and access information on the International network. The trouble was, that although HTML made the Internet a more useful and accessible tool for some, it was still beyond the reach of many. Burnes-Lee soon remedied this problem, creating the first web browser in 1990. This new software enabled the retrieval of HTML and presented it in a format that non-technical people could read; reading the content as text, without the confusion of HTML. Another significant advantage of the browser was the ability to enter a Uniform Resource Locator, or URL, a website address. This enabled authors to make their work available in the same location that was easy for everybody to find.
I first encountered the Internet in about 1996. Since then we have seen it grow and evolve from a slower unreliable technology, into the much faster, reliable and robust systems that we enjoy today. From the bleeping and screeching of the old dial up modulator / demodulator (modem), through Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as America Online, FreeServe and MadasaFish, leading us through using more primitive webpages, early social networking and music sites, such as MySpace, Friends Reunited, Friendster and Napster. The Internet evolved, enabling the World Wide Web to evolve with it. Our “Super Fast” digital broadband connections enabling us to access services such as our modern-day Facebook, Twitter, music and video streaming services such as Spotify, Netflix and YouTube.
Finally, it is important to understand that the Internet and World Wide Web are two distinctly different things. Think of it like this. The Internet, it is like our roads, pavements, bridges and tunnels. It is the infrastructure, the servers, routers, switches, cables and a whole host of other physical computing and communication technologies and software that makes communication between computers possible. The World Wide Web is the cars, busses and lorries that drive on our roads, over our bridges and through our tunnels. It is the people that walk the pavements. The World Wide Web the flow of data, moving from place to place, that is your Facebook Feed, BBC news, your favourite playlist, or that film you have been meaning to watch!
User Experience Design (UX)
Ever tried eating yogurt with a cocktail stick? How about a soup ladle, or slotted spoon? Probably not! I mean you could, it would be slow, messy and frustrating, but you would get to eat some yogurt. Ultimately, they are not the right tools for the job and your experience of and the outcome of eating the yoghurt could have been better.
User Experience Design is the practice of creating user experiences. You will find this principle across many industries, such as customer service that leads to a great customer experience in a restaurant for example.
Today we are thinking about the experience that can be created in the digital environment, that could be information kiosks, software interfaces, mobile apps and of course websites!
From a business perspective UX design can help you define how your business or brand will be experienced by customers. Giving customers a good experience is great for them, and even better for your business.
UX design is huge topic, one on which I could quite literally talk about for days! Don’t worry, I’ll spare you that, so here is a very basic introduction to the benefits of UX design. The principles of UX themselves are not particularly new. When I was at University it was called Human Computer Interfacing (HCI) – but the way we use technology has changed and HCI has changed alongside it.
UX design, in my opinion fits in very nicely with website psychology. Combining knowledge of the two can help create website interfaces that offer a great experience for your users, but that also direct users around your website directing them to take the business action you’d like them to take. That may be, for example, contacting you, purchasing a product, subscribing to a service, or following you on social media. It is a bit like your supermarket, how they place products such as fruit and veg, milk, bread, meat and alcohol at different parts of the shop, making you move between these area’s to cover as much as the shop as possible. The special offers are always on the end of the isles, if you’ve your children in tow, like me, you will probably get fleeced on sweets at the checkout! It is all planned.
The five key principles of UX design
One of the most fundamental to good UX design that involves breaking down a website, digital solution or app into the most basic contents that include; Navigation, Content structure and organisation, visual priority of page elements and initial interaction design.
Content is king. Content strategy addresses how, why and where will content go. How will the content aid the user experience, what is its purpose, is it really needed? How will the content be written?
Defining the rules for how users interact with an experience. What happens when a user navigates, chooses buttons and follows links. Interaction design helps define the journey that a user goes through to accomplish a task. Remember, this is something that they may want to do, this may be something from a business perspective that you want them to do. What does the user do during and after that part of their journey and experience?
How well does the user experience perform against the user’s interaction with it? Poor usability is a real killer and can quickly end the relationship between you and your user. Usability covers a wide range of aspects, from accessibility of content, through user journey and how information is rendered on a wide range of digital devices.
One of the most obvious (to see) aspects of UX design. Visual design is important in making a website look aesthetically pleasing and help ensures your website follows brand guidelines and has consistency. Visual design can often become a pain point, over surmising on colour, or “look and feel”. Visual design is an important part of UX, the icing on top of the UX cake, but by no means the most important part of a final UX solution. A great looking website, that lacks effective navigation, does not work well on mobile devices and containing little meaningful content, for example, will impress nobody, frustrate many and compromise your online reputation and business goals. Imagine you bought a new Lamborghini Aventador, but it had no engine. (I am currently accepting donations to my Lamborghini Aventador fund – current balance £7.24). An amazing looking car, with great potential, but without an engine, it is next to useless, as it will not go anywhere. It is the same thing.
Thank you for taking the time to read my very brief overview of the history of the Internet, World Wide Web and UX design in a nutshell. I hope you have found it interesting, informative, and useful.
If you take one thing away with you today it should be this: Make sure your website not only looks good, but it has a high performing engine as well. Otherwise, you will be looking good, but going nowhere, fast!
I shall leave you with two of my favourite quotes to reflect upon,
Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve already got.
Anonymous – but credited to Automotive tycoon Henry Ford
This article was written on the 24th April 2020 where the UK, as is much of the world under lockdown, with the restriction of movement to protect us against the COVID-19 Virus. There is much talk of returning to normality, the “New Normal” and life after lockdown, whatever that may be. As we adjust to our temporary new lives, online communications and activity have become an even more prominent and necessary aspect of our daily routines. Some businesses are fortunate, like mine, where we can carry on working. Others have had to limit their operations, or sadly close all together for the short term. Websites have always been important for many businesses, but now, more so than ever before. If your business needs a new website, a website re-design or you have a website that’s “okay”, but having read my article you know it will benefit from some UX improvements we are here to help.
For a free 30-minute online consultation book an appointment online via our website at Total Websites UK