After conducted several interviews for my history project, I decided to focus for the time being on (roughly) 1990-2005. The more I learned, the more interesting this time period looked from the perspective of the professionalization of user experience.
To start with the obvious: There was no “user experience” field in 1990. That didn’t come until much later. At the start of the 90s, there was an academic field called human-computer interaction, made out of computer science and cognitive psychology. There were some practicing professionals, and they stayed in the orbit of the academics and took what knowledge they could glean from them.
During the 90s, the world wide web as we know it took off, starting with the invention of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. In the next few years, web design became a profession and exploded, figuratively speaking. In this context, Southeast Michigan saw the founding of some historically important design agencies, and the invention of librarian-style information architecture. Meanwhile, more and more people came into the growing usability profession by way of other fields like technical communication, visual design, and more.
The growing community of practitioners wanted ways to develop their skills, so we saw the founding of MOCHI at the newly re-organized University of Michigan School of Information. However, this organization had an academic focus, leading a few years later to the founding of the local chapter of the UPA (an echo of what happened at the national/international level, where the UPA was founded to serve the needs of new set of professionals).
So, yeah. An interesting time period. Before 1990, there were people in Southeast Michigan involved in the academic HCI scene and, of course, people working in human factors (although they seemed to not have formed a strong community). After 2005, the number of UX professionals kept growing, and the ways those people learned and formed communities changed a lot, getting away from the model of having few, large, centralized organizations. Those are time periods I want to dig into further, but for the time being, I want to flesh out my knowledge of those 15 years.