Cooper was founded by Sue and Alan Cooper in 1992, but its origins trace back to the 1980’s.
In 1988, Alan Cooper created a visual programming language (code-named “Ruby”), and demonstrated it to Bill Gates, who purchased it and combined it with QuickBASIC to create Visual Basic.
Based on his invention, Alan became referred to as “The Father of Visual BASIC.” He received a Windows Pioneer award from Bill Gates in 1995 and a Visionary Award from the Silicon Valley Forum in 1998. Alan’s books, About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, are considered fundamental texts in design education programs around the world.
Sue Cooper’s background in technology marketing enabled her to shape Cooper into an industry standard-bearer with a positive, authentic, and highly effective work culture. In the early years, Sue headed up all business operations, marketing and sales while Alan focused on building the practice.
Cooper is one of the first consulting firms to apply design methodologies to software invention. Cooper transformed software design from an exercise in hindsight into a planned, targeted process. Many design industry concepts, tools, and best practices were invented at Cooper. Here are some examples:
Cooper invented “Goal-directed design,” a highly practical method that shifted the focus from what a product can do to what it can do for its users. This research-based, analytical, human-centered framework is where today’s vast marketplace of user-friendly apps, websites, and platforms originated. Understanding users and the problems they need solved is now considered an essential part of product design.
“We didn’t look at what people did, we looked at what they wanted. It’s a qualitatively different question that leads to qualitatively different answers.”—Alan Cooper
Perhaps Cooper’s most famous invention is the design persona, which represents the goals, motivations, and behaviors of a target user base. Design industry professionals create personas by interviewing and researching real-life users, synthesizing the data collected into archetypes with names and pictures, and mapping out the persona’s needs and goals in detail. Persona-based design empowers people to relate to problems in a human and empathetic way and to create novel and highly effective solutions in service of a design target.
“The better solution was to figure out how humans think about things and design around that.”—Alan Cooper
Cooper also invented pair design, a method where two designers with complementary cognitive styles (a.k.a. “generators” and “synthesizers”) work together to create or improve a product or service. The key to pair design is in designating specific roles, and cultivating a tension of creative conflict and cooperation to ultimately arrive at better solutions than they could identify as individuals.
Cooper’s origins are in technology and software design, but we now apply our tools and principles to business strategy and multi-channel customer relationships - services - as well. Cooper’s design process, rooted in developing a deep understanding of user needs, behaviors and motivations, can improve virtually any service and experience involving people. Moving into service design and customer experience strategy has expanded our capabilities from designing screens to deep strategy and organizational design.
“Service design comes out of the interaction design in Cooper’s DNA. The branches all come from the same tree.”—Sue Cooper
Cooper is also a pioneer in design education. Our training program was established in 2001 as an outgrowth of a popular and fast-expanding internal professional development effort. Through public courses, corporate training, and coaching, we have taught design and leadership best practices to more than 10,000 individuals representing more than 1,000 companies in 25 countries. We empower leaders and rising stars to increase their influence, and to create products and services that people love.
Today Cooper Professional Education offers a diverse curriculum of 13 course offerings. Our UX Boot Camp, a four-day intensive workshop, the first of its kind, offers enrollees the opportunity to apply design for social impact and to address a real-world problem for a mission-driven organization. To date, UX Boot Camp has helped a number of world class partners -- including Fair Trade, California Academy of Sciences, GLIDE Memorial Church, Change.org, Foster America, and Wikimedia Foundation -- tackle gnarly interaction and service design problems.
Alan and Sue continue to lead Cooper as directors. Alan focuses on Cooper’s vision and ethics in technology, and Sue oversees company culture and finances. They live on the pastoral Monkey Ranch in Petaluma, CA.
Cooper continues to practice and teach innovation, design thinking, service design and digital transformation. Today’s Cooperistas are inspired and sought-after thought leaders who are quoted by top media, from WIRED to FastCo, and lead keynotes from Chile, to India, to Portugal.
Over the last decade, Cooper worked with thousands of clients and has earned many awards for its groundbreaking work, including "Best In Category, Optimizing" from the 2016 Interaction Awards. In 2017, Alan Cooper received a Computer History Museum Fellow Award, a prestigious lifetime achievement award for his invention of the Visual BASIC programming language and development environment, and for his work on human interface design.
“We came along with a completely different motivation, a completely different agenda. How can we make people like this? How can we make it easy to learn? How can we make it easy to use?”— Alan Cooper
Cooper’s influence keeps growing. In 2015, Cooper merged with Catalyst Group, a leading New York-based interaction design and usability firm. Whether through an app, an organizational structure, or a brand strategy, Cooper will continue to drive profit, innovate, and create social good for clients, students, and the industry at large.
In 2017, Cooper is celebrating its 25th anniversary. We are delighted to have reached this milestone and we couldn’t have done it alone. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of you for joining us on this exciting ride. Here's to the next 25!
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