The Art of Science: History of The Word “Technology”

Session Title

The Art of Science: History of The Word “Technology”


Nate Bolt, Molly Wright Steenson

Session Type: Presentation

A quick history of the word “technology” and how much weight was placed on art by the man who brought the term into Western culture. A Harvard Botanist named Jakob Bigelow is largely responsible for our modern conception of technology through his book “The Elements of Technology,” published in 1829. What’s less known is that his previous books on flowers show a painstaking attention to beauty as well as science. There are lessons there for us UX professionals as we try to merge the creative and scientific processes in our own work.

When looking at brilliant technology experiences, we often think there is a set of fixed processes we can follow to create our own brilliant technology experience, but simply don’t view art with the same expectations. By looking at the role of art and science in the composition of technology, we can see how the development of interactions is affected by both art and science.


Nate Bolt is an entrepreneur and artist who likes to research and design things as El Presidente of, build dog treat robots ( ), and make weird stop-motion videos ( ). He has overseen hundreds of UX research studies for Sony, Oracle, HP, Greenpeace, Electronic Arts, and others. Beginning in 2003, he masterminded — the very first moderated remote research app, which is now being used around the world to recruit hundreds of thousands of live participants for research.

Nate gives talks about user experience research and design in both commercial and academic settings, including a recent keynote for the Urban Libraries Council. He is currently co-authoring Remote Research, a book on remote testing. Last century, he worked with faculty at the University of California, San Diego, to create a degree titled “Digital Technology and Society,” which focused on the social impact and history of technology. He also completed a year of communications studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he failed every class, and was jailed briefly for playing drums in public without a license.

Molly Wright Steenson started working with the Internet for Fortune 500 companies in 1994. She is currently working on her Ph.D. student at Princeton’s School of Architecture, where her research focuses on the nexus of urbanism, architecture and personal technology. As an interaction designer, Molly worked with a wide variety of companies building large scale, complex websites and mobile applications. Recent projects in India and China for Microsoft Research and Intel Research examine the nexus of social media, technology and everyday life. Molly was a resident associate professor at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy and ran the Connected Communities research area. She also holds a Master’s in Environmental Design from the Yale School of Architecture.