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The early 80’s saw the “first wave” of investment in consumer-oriented interactive online digital services, known at the time as “Videotex”. It was the ’80’s Vision of the Web – and “the vision thing” was right – but the reality still had to wait a few years. Still, these are the roots of the interactive industry.

1981-1989: The early 80’s saw the “first wave” of investment in consumer-oriented interactive online digital services, known at the time as Videotex.

It was still very early days: The PC had barely been invented, the mouse was non-existant, standards were haphazard, graphics were crude and communications bandwidth was laughable. Still, we got it to happen.

Okaaaaay…so, What Was Videotex?

Videotex was the ’80’s Vision of the Web


Browser History

or … The Origin of the Browser

In its earliest days “interactive” was driven bycompeting platforms that had been developed (concurrently) by several national Postal Telegraph and Telephone government agencies in the 70’s and 80’s in order to take advantage of what they perceived as the emergence of international, interactive, easily accessible, graphically-sophisticated markets in the new “wired” age.

The strategic assumption was largely correct

BUT: The battle for market share in a commercial environment among incompatible competing vendors was a standards nightmare that actually prevented the emergence of seamless, global networking.

The Global Perspective

When the early interactive (Videotex) market collapsed in the late 80’s, the “non-commercial”, non-competitive infrastructure of a truly global, research-oriented international internet “web” eventually stepped into the vacuum. Successfully.

Throughout the 70’s-80’s Videotex era, the industry referred to these UI devices as “decoders“. The earliest versions were actual dedicated hardware devices and the dominant culture was still geek-speak, so the definition was driven by the technology. Even as we moved towards software implementation of the interactive UI (with the emergence of affordable PC’s), our working metaphor was still defined by a techno-centric perspective.

The marketing brilliance of Netscape was in defining the medium through the user experience rather than through the technology – as a user-centric ” browser“. It signaled a sea change in our understanding of the interactive environment.

Metaphors for the New Medium


1981 : Booz-Allen Hamilton


In late 1981 leading market research firm Booz-Allen Hamilton decided to test the waters forconsumer acceptance of interactive electronic services. But who knew what that meant?

Early “Flat” Design

I provided interface and interaction design for this highly secret groundbreakingmarket research study of the potential for online interactive services to the home. Our model was … quite visionary.

It was mostly a function of the technological & graphical limitations of the moment, but our design style in early interactive days wasvery ‘flat’.

1983: Content Strategy

Videotex 83 was an early industry conference focusing on this new interactive marketplace. I spoke as a designer, architect and implementer of some of the earliest interactive online websites:

  • Marketplace Challenges
  • Integration with Applications
  • Usability and Interface Standards
  • Tagging,Headering
  • Context Management Technique and Tools

One of our first solutions was to propose an approach that we called the Elemental Database. The image illustrates my proposal for a comprehensive content design solution a la 1983.



1984 : Usability Standards

In the early 80’s I was a working member o the Applications Level User Interface Committee of the Videotex Industry Association. During these pre-Web days the interactive online arena was a Babel of competing international and marketplace standards.

My company, The Communication Studio, was one of the first – and few – design service bureaus. We were in a unique position to work across the marketplace. Our aim was to “make it work”.

Our primary challenges included:

  • technical criteria in flux
  • integration with and between applications
  • common needs, but competing standards
  • unexplored arena of UI & “usability
  • meta-information and tagging
  • platformaware” design methods


This 1984-era document predicts and defines what we now call “responsive” design.


e Communication Studio LLC