A Brief History of UX in Southeast Michigan

How did the user experience community in Southeast Michigan get to where it is today? At the UXPA/CHI/STC holiday mixer a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded again of just how much information about our history exists in people’s heads and nowhere else.

This isn’t news, and I’m not the first person to think of it by far. There’s certainly recognition out there that the founding figures in HCI aren’t going to live forever, and if we want to preserve any of our field’s history, we’d better start writing it down.

Indeed, writing about history from the past twenty years or so presents some interesting challenges that history from previous times did not—much of our correspondence has moved to email. I imagine that in the future where storage is cheap and the Internet never forgets, historians will drown in the amount of electronic correspondence available to them (emails, tweets, and the like). However, years and years of my own digital communications are completely lost, and I suspect I’m not the only one. There’s a time period—say, the 90s and 00s—where our emails were much more ephemeral than today.

That’s a problem for historians working in the future, though. My immediate problem is that there are a lot of living people with knowledge in their heads rather than knowledge that’s written down. I don’t want to write a comprehensive history of HCI, though that would be fascinating to read. I don’t even think I could cover all of Michigan. Southeast Michigan alone is interesting enough.

After all, this is the region that produced TecEd, a respected user research company, an early iSchool in the form of the University of Michigan School of Information, and the place where information architecture was born one of the two times it was born. This area has seen chapters of the UXPA and ACM SIGCHI rise and decline, and an explosion of independent groups. I want to get out there and interview the people that were around for these events.

I don’t know exactly what I will write, where I will write, or how long it will be, but the more I think about it, the more I want to do this.

2012 was the year of the analytics book. 2015 will be the year of the history project.