A canon of user experience - BogieLand
User experience design & Information architecture

A canon of user experience

Seminal works of a discipline (A work in progress)

Peter J. Bogaards

According to Webster, a canon is "a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works." The initative to start a canon came from the fact that increasingly I noticed a lack of historical knowledge of our intellectual roots by many members of our community. Without being familiar with the 'classics' there is always the danger of repeating mistakes from the past. And also, proper knowledge of the ideas, theories and works of previous movers and shakers is always interesting, valuable and useful. Some of them were too far ahead at the time and some even be forgotten. This overview can be especially used for educational purposes getting new generations connected to relevant predecessors.

To be more specific, User Experience (UX) as a term was coined by Donald Norman when he was leading Apple's 'User Experience Architecture Group' (1995). This is a contemporary term. In the near future, the label UX wil evolve (just like experience design, customer experience or service design will). However, the field has deep historical roots. These roots are found in seminal documents on research, design and validation of user experiences in and for the digital domain. Texts upon which new and current ideas are built or are referred to. Starting from WW II on to the WWW, mobile, social and what comes after. The UX field is grounded in many disciplines and therefore is to be considered interdisciplinary.

Disclaimer: This canon is not an inventory of so-called mandatory literature written in stone, nor a stone table for eternity. It's a guide, a source of inspiration, and a guiding post for teachers, students, professionals, reading clubs, librarians, publishers and other interested readers. Our field has a lot of treasures to offer which should not be forgotten. I explained my intentions with the UX canon in this episode of The Informed Life podcast (hosted by Jorge Arango).

The roots (1945-1965)

Bush, V. (1945) As we may think - This article was originally published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Within the US-centric context, it is the most-cited starting point of our field.

Shannon, C.E. (1948), A mathematical theory of communication, The Bell System Technical Journal (Vol. 27) - This article became one of the most cited of all scientific articles and gave rise to the field of information theory.

Wiener, N. (1950) The human use of human beings: Cybernetics and society - Besides coining the term Cybernetics, the author is also one of the first to address the human/machine relation and the role of ethics in technology.

Dreyfuss, H. (1955) Designing for people - From the publisher: "Written in a robust, fresh style, this book offers an inviting mix of professional advice, case studies, and design history along with historical black-and-white photos and the author's whimsical drawings. In addition, the author's uncompromising commitment to public service, ethics, and design responsibility makes this masterful guide a timely read for today's designers." - Review

Miller, G.A. (1956), The magical number seven plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information, in PsychologicalReview, 63(2) - "(...) one of the most highly cited papers in psychology."

Licklider, J.C.R. (1960), Man-computer symbiosis, in Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, volume HFE-1, pp. 4–11, March 1960. - The paper represented what we would today consider a fundamental, or key text of the modern computing revolution.

Sutherland, I.E. (1963), Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system - Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (January 1963). With a new preface by Alan Blackwell and Kerry Rodden. - Sutherland's PhD thesis maybe the most influential document in the history of HCI. Sketchpad demo

The first signs (1965-1980)

Nelson, T.H. (1965), Complex information processing: A file structure for the complex, the changing, and the indeterminate, ACM 26th National Conference - First mention of the terms 'hypertext' and 'hypermedia'.

Engelbart, D. (1968) The mother of all demos - "(...) a name given retrospectively to Douglas Engelbart's December 9, 1968, demonstration of experimental computer technologies that are now commonplace. The live demonstration featured the introduction of the computer mouse, video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, bootstrapping, and a collaborative real-time editor." - See also, "The 1968 Demo - Interactive"

Reichardt, J. ed. (1968) Cybernetic serendipity: The computer and the arts - "Cybernetic Serendipity is an international exhibition exploring and demonstrating some of the relationships between technology and creativity." - This exhibition is regarded as the starting point of Computer Art.

Simon, H.A. (1969) The sciences of the artificial, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press - This seminal book is one of the most influential texts in the long history of the development of design theory.

Papanek, V. (1971) Design for the real world: Human ecology and social change, With an introduction by R. Buckminster Fuller (Bantam Books, London). - Among other things, but famous for its first line (parentheses added): "There are professions more harmful than (industrial) design, but only a very few of them."

Kay, A. (1972) A personal computer for children of all ages, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center - "This note speculates about the emergence of personal, portable information manipulators and their effects when used by both children and adults. Although it should be read as science fiction, current trends in miniaturization and price reduction almost guarantee that many of the notions discussed will actually happen in the near future."

Rittel, H. & Webber, M. (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, Policy Sciences, 4(2), pp. 155-169. - "Seminal article in which the authors introduce the concept of a wicked problem and its characteristics."

Nelson, T. (1974) Computer Lib/Dream Machines (first edition) - Computer Lib is often considered the first book about the personal computer.

Alexander, C., Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein (1977), A pattern language: Towns, buildings, construction, Oxford University Press, NYC - A philosophy that in designing their environments people always rely on certain languages, which allow them to articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within a formal system which gives them coherence.

The formation (1980-2000)

Bolt, R.A., Chris Schmandt, and Eric A. Hulteen (1980), Put-that-there: Voice and gesture at the graphics interface, Architecture Machine Group, Cambridge MA - video (1982)

Cross, N. (1982), Designerly ways of knowing in Design Studies 3, no. 4

Tufte, E. (1983), Visual display of quantitative information - "The classic book on statistical graphics, charts, tables. Theory and practice in the design of data graphics, (...)"

Heckel, P. (1984), Elements of friendly software design, Warner Books, NY - "A classic of software design that definitively lays out software design as a communications craft. Heckel details, among other things, 30 principles of effective user communication. Along the way he provides a wealth of illustrative details from every type of artistic endeavor from Picasso to D.W. Griffith to Walt Disney Studios to Xerox PARC." (AMZN)

Lee, S.K., B. Buxton and K.C. Smith (1985), A multi-touch three dimensional touch-sensitive tablet, University of Toronto - Video

Laurel, B. (1986), Toward the design of a computer-based interactive fantasy system, Ph.D. at Ohio State University. - This dissertation would form the basis of her 1993 book 'Computers as Theater'. Seminal work for the field of game design as well.

Winograd, T. and F. Flores (1986), Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design, Ablex, Norwood, NJ - "This publication presents an important and controversial new approach to understanding what computers do and how their functioning is related to human language, thought, and action." - Reading guide.

Nelson, T. (1987), Literary machines - "This book describes the legendary and daring project Xanadu, an initiative toward an instantaneous electronic literature; the most audacious and specific plan for knowledge, freedom and a better world yet to come out of computerdom; the original (and perhaps the ultimate) hypertext system."

Lakoff, G. (1987), Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What categories reveal about the mind - "The book puts forward a model of cognition argued on the basis of semantics. It emphasizes the centrality of metaphor, defined as the mapping of cognitive structures from one domain onto another, in the cognitive process." (Wikipedia)

Norman, D. (1988, 2013), The psychology/design of everyday things - PDF-version

Bates, M. (1989), The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface - Seminal article on retrieving, browsing and searching of online information.

Berners-Lee, T. (1989), Information management: A proposal - A proposal to Tim's boss Mike Sendall, who then wrote the immortal words 'Vague, but exciting' on the proposal.

Wurman, R.S. (1989), Information anxiety - "With the publication of his first book in 1962 at the age of twenty-six, Richard Saul Wurman began the singular passion of his life: making information understandable."

Nielsen, J. and Rolf Molich (1990), Heuristic evaluation of user interfaces - Abstract: "Heuristic evaluation is an informal method of usability analysis where a number of evaluators are presented with an interface design and asked to comment on it. Four experiments showed that individual evaluators were mostly quite bad at doing such heuristic evaluations and that they only found between 20 and 51% of the usability problems in the interfaces they evaluated. On the other hand, we could aggregate the evaluations from several evaluators to a single evaluation and such aggregates do rather well, even when they consist of only three to five people."

Wiesner, M (1991), The Computer for the 21st Century, "The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it"; his seminal piece on 'ubiquitous computing'.

Pirolli, P and Stuart Card (1995), Information foraging in information access environments, in Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI '95 (pp. 5158). New York: Association for Computing Machinery

Cooper, A. (1995), About Face: The essentials of user interface design, Wiley. - Now in it's 4th edition, with co-authors Robert Reimann, David Cronin and Christopher Noessel.

Winograd, T. (ed.) (1996), Bringing design to software - "In this landmark book, Terry Winograd shows how to improve the practice of software design, by applying lessons from other areas of design to the creation of software. The goal is to create software that works - really works - in being appropriate and effective for people who live in the world that the software creates."

Beyer, H. and Karen Holtzblatt (1997), Contextual design: Defining customer-centered systems, 1st edition (Elsevier) - "The Contextual Design process was first used at DEC and later gained acceptance in the rapidly growing HCI community throughout the 1980's. Following a series of articles on various aspects of Contextual Design in the HCI literature, the entire process was described in the 1997 text." (Source: ixd.org) -

Rosenfeld, L. and Peter Morville (1998), Information architecture for the World Wide Web - Seminal text applying LIS to the new information medium ('The Web'), marking the birth of the design discipline Information Architecture.

Brin S. and Larry Page (1998), The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine, Computer Networks and ISDN Systems 30 - "In this paper, we present Google, a prototype of a large-scale search engine which makes heavy use of the structure present in hypertext. Google is designed to crawl and index the Web efficiently and produce much more satisfying search results than existing systems."

Nardi, B.A. and Vicki O'Day (1999), Information ecologies: Using technology with heart - "We define an information ecology to be a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment. In information ecologies, the spotlight is not on technology, but on human activities that are served by technology."

The candidates (2000-now)

Manovich, L. (2001) The language of new media MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.- Important work in the field of communications research and (new) media design.

Garrett, J.J. (2002) The elements of user experience: User-centered design for the Web and beyond - A booklet crystalizing the field of UX in times of disciplinary confusions and thinking.

Kuniavsky, M. (2003) Observing the user experience: A practitioner's guide to user research - His first book and "widely used as a university textbook on user research methods."

McCullough, M. (2004) Digital ground: Architecture, pervasive computing, and environmental knowing - Great piece of work thinking in terms of meaningful places and the upcoming virtual world.

Norman, D. (2004) Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, Basic Books - "All this changed tremendously in 2004. It was the year, Don Norman published his new book. For him, it was certainly a 180 degree turn, from a distinctive cognitive engineering perspective to an emotional design perspective on interactive systems." (Hassenzahl, 2021)

Goodwin, K. (2009) Designing for the digital age: How to create human-centered products and services, Wiley - One of the first practical books for digital design professionals figuring out how to do design.

Resmini A. and Luca Rosati (2011) Pervasive information architecture: Designing cross-channel user experiences, Morgan Kaufman - This publication reframed what is to be considered classical IA (Rosenfeld & Morville 1998).

If you think a relevant work for this canon is missing (which is highly probable), please send me a message.