To celebrate this year’s World Usability Day, the team dug back into the annals of history to curate a list of some of the most exciting developments in digital usability since the dawn of time. Join us in celebrating!

Accessible means usable

For us, accessibility is usability. The most accessible digital experiences are the ones everyone can use and enjoy. It’s this wide-open approach to accessibility that has driven us for our whole history as we build a digital world that works for everybody. And we’re bringing that expansive spirit to our celebrations this November 9th as we celebrate World Usability Day.

In honour of the event, the Simply Accessible team thought about some of the most inspiring contributions to usability in the digital world. But we don’t like to limit ourselves (or anyone else for that matter)—so we contemplated usability’s evolution since the dawn of time itself. We’re a pretty diverse group as it is, so we’ve generated an expansive and festive list of star moments in history (and prehistory) that have made the world more usable for all. Enjoy!

In the history of the world, what is one of the most exciting contributions to digital usability?

Caryn Pagel, world usability cruise director

The current digital world—the internet, smartphones, all of it—stems from a desire to communicate. People have been driven to connect with each other since forever. So, when I think about what really impacts usability in today’s digital world, I think about inventions like the telephone or the printing press. Technologies that really helped us reach each other on a grand scale.

Gavin Ogston, world usability hairstylist

For me, one of the most exciting contributions to usability was the development of the JavaScript language. It helped create user experiences that connect people to the information they’re looking for in more natural-feeling ways. It has made information transfer more efficient, which boosts people’s access to information. That’s critical if we’re talking about usability in the digital world where the whole goal is connecting people with the information they need.

Joanna Briggs, world usability smoothie chef

The advancement and, now, ubiquity, of technology have together made observing, recording, and sharing user research much simpler. Early HCI (human-computer interaction) research used film, photography, and video to record their subjects, but now anyone with a mobile phone can record and share. We can connect with people all over the world remotely and observe how they’re using something. While there’s always a place for analog note-taking in a field study, digital tools have improved the usability of doing user research itself.

Jeff Smith, world usability skate sharpener

Apple iOS devices and VoiceOver are my picks. Watching a skilled VoiceOver user navigate not only the web, but things that have been around for ages (phone calls, email, etc.) with speed and ease is an absolutely amazing thing to see. Advances in apps that use augmented reality step even more beyond the digital world in helping make the world in general more accessible.

Elle Waters, world usability unicorn herder

Gender equality. Sometimes we limit who people can be. When we embrace the value of personal experiences that may differ from our own, we also empower them. As we expand our understanding of gender (from just men! to hey, women, too, buddy to all the genders) we train our brains to think more expansively. We recognize the value of a wider range of human expression and experience, and we overcome our own rigid stereotypes. Gender “battles” have been going on since humans first creeped out of the primordial ooze, but the more we treat folks of all genders with dignity, the more we open those creative think tanks. The more we see unique qualities in people as valuable, the more we win with usability and accessibility in general. To create a world that’s more usable for everyone, we start by imagining a world built for everyone.

Joe Watkins, world usability Nicest Guy Ever

One of the coolest things I’ve run into lately is Comcast’s voice recognition feature on their XR remote. They’ve also introduced easy-to-get-to accessibility settings for captioning, video description, and even voice guidance. Just hold down the mic button and say “The Great British Baking Show” and you are all set!

Melanie Jones, world usability clown car driver

At some point in evolution, play became an adaptive behaviour for humans and animals. For some species, it helps young pups imitate adult behaviour and learn important skills, and the same is probably true for human pups. But we’ve taken it a step further. Play is at the root of creativity and innovation. Playful experimentation and curiosity lead to questions like, “How can we do this better?” It leads to beautiful user interfaces and delightful UX. It leads to the impulse to make sure all kinds of people can use and enjoy whatever we make.

Kara VanRoekel, world usability figure skating champion

There is a difference between making the digital world more usable and making it possible in the first place. A lot of innovations over the millennia have made the digital world possible: from the first recorded instances of the written language around 3000 BC (hieroglyphs were the first emojis!), through the work of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine, through ENIAC, and to the beginnings of the internet at CERN. But when pressed to pick one single thing that I think helped vastly improve the usability of that world, I’d have to say the development and widespread use of the graphical user interface over the command line interface. The GUI made it easier for millions of people to become involved in the digital revolution.

Charles Callistro, world usability crypto-currency broker

I think digital usability is simply a subset of usability, in much the way accessibility is a subset of good design. If I had to pick an inspiring thing that helped make the digital world more usable, I’d go back to pre-digital, and find an example of recognizing the importance of usability in the first place, like the Army Air Forces Aviation Psychology Program Research Reports. The reports were groundbreaking in recognizing that things works better when things are designed to work better.

Devon Persing, world usability gentleman farmer

For me, the biggest steps forward for usability have been twofold. The first is, through research about learning, information processing, and information acquisition, we now acknowledge that different people have different interaction and information processing styles. The second is that technology now gives us the ability to allow users to customize their digital experiences to best fit their needs. Work and play with a minimum of cognitive load means people can spend more time focusing on what they want to do, and less on how to do it.

Hayley Richardson, world usability tattoo removal specialist

While not necessarily about usability specifically, I think systems thinking (or design thinking) has made one of the most exciting contributions to both usability and accessibility because of how it’s grounded in seeing a problem holistically. Systems thinking puts a problem in context within its own environment to sniff out the best possible solution. This works in the “real” world, and the digital world around us. The best, and most exciting part, is that when working with the big picture like that, you can wind up in a completely different place than where you started. Looking at one aspect of an issue can lead you to a groundbreaking discovery in a completely different, yet related, area.

You’re invited!

At the heart of all our individual responses to this question, some themes emerge: connection, ease, embracing the full range of our shared humanity, delight and creativity, holistic thinking. That is our invitation to all makers and contributors of the digital world on this World Usability Day.

Simply Accessible invites you to open your brains and hearts wide enough to consider all possibilities and people. To embrace inclusive design and accessibility and usability as parts of the same magnificent whole. And to innovate and do better as you make the digital world a more delightfully usable place.

Also, join our World Usability Day party and contribute to our list! What do you think is the most exciting addition to digital usability in the history of the world?