A Google Book Ngram Chart of Usability Terms

After reading Robert X. Cringely’s entertaining post in which he charts the decline of his literary popularity using Google’s book ngram viewer, I thought it would be interesting to see what Google’s ngram viewer would reveal about the popularity of some common usability words and phrases.

I’ve written previously about my Wordle visualization of some common usability words and phrases. I chose four fairly representative words and phrases from the set I used to create the Wordle visualization, namely:

  • usability
  • user interface
  • human factors
  • ergonomics

The following ngram chart visualizes the popularity of these four words and phrases in English-language books from 1900 to 2000.

Google book ngram chart of four usability words and phrases

The term human factors (and its European equivalent, ergonomics) is present throughout the industrialized 20th Century, as I’d expect from a field rooted in the usability of all things mechanical.

The term user interface gained popularity in the mid 1970s, largely due to PARC’s seminal work on the Xerox Alto. A massive growth followed in the early 1980s, which coincided with people realizing that computers could be easier to use than they had been, as demonstrated by the Xerox Star in 1981 and Apple’s Lisa in 1983 and Macintosh in 1984.

I was surprised that the term usability was not used more frequently. I suspect the popularity of this term will show an increase when Google publishes the results from their analysis of publications from 2000 to 2010.

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