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The history of UI design

As you might have guessed, the role of the UI designer is relatively recent. In the late 20th century, computing technology was a revolutionary phenomenon, and computers were seen as mostly functional. This all changed in the 80s, when Apple Macintoshes, and Microsoft Windows were released in quick succession. Businesses realized the value in an appealing digital interface when creating memorable user experiences.

The early 90’s saw manufacturing begin on a sleeker, more adaptable iteration of the desktop computer with the laptop. The first website went live in 1992, featuring only text with the occasional splash of the default hypertext blue. Other UI elements (color schemes, typography, menu’s, etc.) were gradually introduced into digital experiences throughout the 90’s until the computer software plugin Flash changed the game. For the first time, web designers could create any shape and animation they wanted—all within a single tool. With the introduction of Flash, websites became significantly more engaging.

2007, the year when Apple released the first iPhone, ushered in a golden age for UI design. Boasting sophisticated touchscreen functionality, users would never look at their phones the same again—and UI designers suddenly held a new status.

In 2010, web designer Ethan Marcotte created ripples in the UI design world by challenging the approach to mobile UI design. Instead of mobile devices having their own separate websites, he proposed that the same content could be displayed on a desktop—with an adapted layout that optimized the content on a different screen. This revelation was the birth of responsive design, which is now a vital part of UI design.

Today, UI design is a booming and ever-evolving field, with even the most senior product designers expected to have some UI design skills in their arsenal.


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