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10 User Interface Designs that Revolutionised Society

October 26, 2016

Often, the sheer importance of user interface design can be easily overlooked. Surely as long as an invention carries out its core purpose, then it’s deemed successful, right?

Wrong.

User interface is paramount to determining whether a new product skyrockets in popularity or simply fizzles out. Clever user interface – or UI – effectively replicates the patterns that humans are inherently accustomed to: the natural direction the eye moves in to absorb information, for instance, or the limits to which we can stretch our dexterity. After all, the whole idea is to simplify and streamline our day-to-day lives.

So, to rejoice the importance of user interface design, we dissect 10 innovations throughout history that have essentially changed our lifestyles for the better:

1. The abacus

Before any written numeral system even existed, ancient civilisations had to depend on the abacus to conduct their trades. Providing the origins for the modern-day calculator, this nifty tool made a complicated task a whole lot easier with a super simple mobile design. As a result, people lurrrrved it.

2. Alphabetisation

Just as society found a way to keep track of numbers, we also found a way to organise textual information. Alphabetisation has become an integral and indispensable method that has no chance of dying out any time soon.

3. The QWERTY keyboard

The original typewriter keyboard was a source of constant frustration for writers: when you typed two adjacent letters in rapid succession, they’d jam up and ruin your page. So, a newspaper editor decided to shift up the layout, working out which letters were most commonly used and designing an interface that kept them apart.

4. The rotary dial

Until 1891, callers had to turn a hand crank which sent a spark letting the operator know to connect your line. That all changed with the introduction of the much more user-friendly rotary dial. Far less strenuous and conveniently automated, the first phones featuring rotary dials were a hit. While smartphones are a little different in user interface today, the rotary dial still exists – just think of your average washing machine, or the infamous iPod click wheel.

5. The minute hand

Once upon a time (get it?), clocks only displayed an hour hand. While it gave a vague indication of the time of day, it was impossible to tell when the next hour was about to creep up on you. Pretty inconvenient, huh? The introduction of the minute hand was revolutionary: it actually increased the productivity of whole economies.

6. The computer mouse

It’s hard to imagine manually entering every single command into your computer via your keyboard, but before the invention of the mouse, that’s exactly what people had to do. Then Douglas Engelbart changed up the game: he created a circuit board protected by a wooden shell, connected to the computer by a cord and placed on metal wheels so it could easily move around. Ever since then, users have been able to easily communicate with computers by simply pointing and clicking a button.

7. The web browser

Turning technology into a marketable phenomenon takes skill. The tried-and-trusted web browser is a fantastic example of a genius application that swiftly took a product from the dark and dingy corners of tech to common, everyday use. Basically, it paved the way for all members of society to capitalise on the benefits of the internet.

8. Internet Chat Relay

These days, chatting with your mates over the internet is a standard practice. However, there was a time where Internet Chat Relay (IRC) didn’t exist. Its implementation enabled the earliest adopters of the internet to connect with creators, and its successful user interface design served as a springboard for the plethora of channels in which we communicate today: Facebook Messenger, Slack, Google Hangouts, Whatsapp, AIM – even the likes of good ol’ Tinder.

9. The touchscreen

The touchscreen has undeniably transformed modern-day user interface. From smartphones and tablets to ticket machines, airport kiosks and even cars, the touchscreen is nearing on ubiquity. However, it was largely Apple that actually got this UI design right. Where the original touchscreen relied on pressure, the ‘capacitive’ touchscreens we have come to know and love today rely on the electrical charges in our fingertips, enabling us to direct our devices with a simple tap, swipe, scroll, or pinch.

10. The hashtag

Last but not least is our beloved hashtag. Sure, it seems like a fairly innocuous punctuation mark, but the power of the hashtag these days is quite phenomenal: it has the means to create online communities and drive important conversations on the world’s biggest social networks. From tragic events to political issues and healthy doses of humour, the hashtag has greatly contributed to the increasing surge of globalisation in the modern world.