I noticed a question about the origin of the "loading circle" was closed earlier today because it was "not a practical problem." Further justification of the closing was that

Knowing the origin of something isn't really useful, but knowing when to use it, when not to, what user experiences of it are when used in certain places, whether if rotating clockwise / anticlockwise makes users feel it is working faster or not... Those are useful questions, but just asking 'where did this thing come from' isn't so useful.

The OP responded with the following rebuttal

I'm asking where it came from so that I can see how it developed. Has it always rotated the same way, has anyone tried the other way, was it as successful, how quickly did it become so widespread (an implication of intuitiveness). Where it came from is the key to answering the more useful questions.

I'm leaning toward agreeing with the OP on this: understanding the origin of a common feature can help to understand what rules govern that feature and when they can be bent or broken. This would make knowing the origins of a feature useful and on-topic.

Are questions about origins on or off topic?

  • I support leaving the question open and energetically downvoting any answers that don't provide evidence. Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 17:06

4 Answers 4


Answers to origin questions fall into historical research. Such research is always important and relevant to the field in which it is done.

Perhaps allow me to pose another origin question:

What is the origin of the word 'affordance'?

Is such a question off-topic in the field of UX? The same person who borrowed the term and popularised it within the UX field, is the person who later asserted that the term is misused and does not reflect the original, intended meaning.

Does such knowledge has use? Well... I believe that understanding the origin, and the reasons for things to work and be the way their are is important. Because too often we take what's around us as the right thing - as the correct option. Most people do not think every moment of their lives... how could I make this better? Though as UXers - this is our job.

So knowing the origin of the mouse, or the right-click, or the loading circle, we may better understand the circumstances in which these things were devised, but equally... how much these circumstances may not apply to us anymore. And then we'll have a better chance to make things better.

Having said that, the notion of knowing the origin of the loading circle will bring about any useful insights about this world seems rather ridicules.

But isn't it our responsibility not to make such assumptions?

There are many, many questions on the forum that ask for ideal solutions - as if such would exist, they would have been noted, and soon there would be no reason for us to exist. So amongst all these questions pops a question on the origin of something.

And to be fair... I really want to know the answer.


  • I have to agree. Questioning the origin of certain patterns allows us to innovate. Stick with the same old patterns, and you'll never improve anything.
    – Dirk v B
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 22:16
  • Off topic; but: The first time I came across 'affordance' was Don Norman's 'The Psychology of Everyday Things' 1989 ( the later editions are titled 'The Design of Everyday Things').
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 18:39
  • The term originates from a 1966 research by psychologist James Gibson in a publication called "The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems". Originally the term applied to physical spaces - "A flattish firm ground affords passage". Norman borrowed the term, but later said it is grossly misused and overused.
    – Izhaki
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 19:55

This question on where the magnifying glass for search came from also fits this category I believe, and is not closed but actually rather popular with many useful responses.

Incidentally, I found it not by looking for another example here, but by Googling for 'magnifying glass for search'.

As @Izhaki alludes to, if we can discover how and why something came about, and the reasons for the thing at its inception are no longer an issue, then perhaps we should rethink whether the thing remains the best solution.


Following several improvements to the post it is now significantly better than it was when first asked (that resulted in the closure). It was reviewed several times by several people and the question has now been reopened (although only by majority decision, it was not unanimous).

However, I still maintain that purely asking for the origin of something isn't particularly constructive. This isn't history.stackexchange, it is a site for UX problems that are looking for solutions. Idle curiosity doesn't produce any practical outcomes - it is better for focus the question on a problem that needs solving. If the origin of something comes out in the answers as part of the explanation as to why X solution is preferable then that is both interesting and useful, but just asking for the origin and nothing else is only interesting, not useful (unless it happens to come up as a question in a particularly nerdy pub quiz).


History is what gives you the knowledge to understand why something is. Without understanding why you're merely following rote instruction or just conforming to others.

In a SE such as user experience, understanding the why of something is incredibly important as the majority of why is based in psychological reasoning and research.

Yes these questions have value to users.

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