What have the Romans ever done for us? UX and the Roman Empire

How often do you think about the Roman Empire? Once a month? Once a day even? The recent trend has made a lot of people realise it’s a lot more than they thought. Thinking about it, an empire which lasted for so long and left a lasting impression that influences our culture to this day could only have gotten so far by valuing practicality, persistence, and an unwavering determination to find solutions… that sounds a lot like design thinking to me! Who would have thought it… UX and the Roman Empire, a build on Design Thinking!

So, what have the Romans ever done for us “apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a freshwater system, and public health”. What about the Roman Empire and UX? How did they use it to conquer and control? How does it still influence society today and how can we apply this to modern UX and design thinking practices? Let’s ‘carpe diem’ and explore!

Urban Planning

The Ancient Greeks are credited with the birth of UX through ergonomics, which the Romans later adopted (as many Roman achievements were), however, one key standout is urban planning. With its grid-based layouts and thoughtful incorporation of markets, temples, and communal spaces, serves as a timeless example of user-centric design. This approach prioritised the convenience and well-being of residents, promoting efficient navigation and fostering a sense of community. In contemporary design thinking for user interfaces, this principle can be translated into creating intuitive and user-friendly layouts that prioritise ease of use and accessibility. By ensuring that essential functions and features are readily accessible, we contribute to a more cohesive and enjoyable user experience for users which let them perform duties with greater efficiency.

Weapons and Armour

The Romans were pioneers in the design of weapons and armour that not only served their practical purpose but also prioritised the user experience. The Pelum, Scutum, Gladius, and Helmets were crafted with ergonomics and offence/ defence in mind, enabling soldiers to wield them effectively in the heat of battle.

For example, the Scutum shields were concaved in design to offer substantial protection via deflection and structural integrity when 1 on 1. Used collaboratively, they formed the tortoise-like scuta- perfect for holding off large numbers of combatants. It was also perfect for using the Gladius in tandem, designed to be a short stabbing sword, rather than slashing- maximum effect, minimum effort.

The Pelum spear was designed using weaker metal in order to penetrate and then bend inside its victim, making it impossible to remove causing maximum damage- gruesome but well thought out.

Roman helmets evolved over time, starting as a simple metal pot and resulting in the famous armoured mutton chop helmets we all know. This was to provide protection across a larger area of the head but also had brackets to fold the side panels upwards, making it user-friendly and usable in a number of different scenarios. A great example of development based on user needs and experiences over time.

Today, these concepts can translate to modern design thinking where user experience plays a central role. It emphasises creating tools, equipment, and gear that are not only functional but also ergonomic, comfortable, and intuitive, ensuring that users can perform their tasks efficiently and with ease.

The Corvus Boarding device

The Roman corvus serves as a historical example of early design thinking and user experience considerations. Facing the challenge of inferior naval capabilities during the First Punic War, the Romans demonstrated a user-centred approach by inventing the corvus, which aimed to capitalise on the Romans land-warfare skills. This innovative solution transformed naval combat by addressing the pain point of ship-to-ship transitions, effectively making it a land-based engagement by boarding enemy ships. Moreover, the Romans iteratively developed and refined the corvus based on feedback and battlefield experiences, showcasing a rudimentary form of design thinking. Their evaluation of outcomes and willingness to make adjustments demonstrated an early form of user testing and feedback analysis, emphasising the importance of adapting their invention to capitalise on a strength and keep them pushing forward strategically.

Collaborating, Despite Ranks

Roman legions were known for their ability to collaborate effectively regardless of individual ranks. This mindset of valuing each contributor’s input can be applied to modern design thinking practices. In design, it emphasises the importance of fostering an inclusive and open environment where all team members, regardless of their position, feel empowered to share their ideas and perspectives. This approach can lead to more creative solutions and a richer user experience by drawing on the collective wisdom and insights of the entire team.

Roman Roads

The Romans’ development of roads and signage serves as a pioneering example of design thinking, essential for efficiently managing and expanding their vast empire. Their meticulous approach to infrastructure design, marked by standardised road construction, layout, and directional signage, prioritised user experience, reducing travel times and costs while facilitating troop mobilisation and resource movement.

This design thinking approach resulted in a highly interconnected road network that strengthened supply lines and enabled efficient governance across their expansive territories. In essence, the Romans’ focus on optimising logistics and communication through innovative infrastructure design remains a timeless model for modern design thinking, particularly in the realms of supply chain management

UX and the Roman Empire: One more thing they gave us

The Romans stand out as a remarkable source of inspiration for UX and Design Thinking. They fearlessly embraced new ideas and eagerly absorbed lessons from their rivals, forging unique solutions and a path towards enduring success. The Romans were pioneers of innovation, etching a permanent mark on history. Their visionary approach and unwavering commitment to innovation propelled them to greatness, establishing a legacy that remained unmatched by their adversaries. Their emphasis on tangible results, their readiness for continual reinvention, and their appreciation for diverse perspectives across all ranks set the Roman legions apart.

Their legacy serves as a potent reminder for us to adopt a similar mindset, incorporating a blend of meticulous planning and practicality, making well-informed decisions, and demonstrating unyielding determination in our own ventures in the world of design and user experience. Just as the Romans seamlessly merged innovation with practicality, we can draw valuable insights from their heritage to create user experiences that are not only ground-breaking but also user-centric, thus guiding our own course to success in the contemporary landscape of design and user experience.