Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

What is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)?

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is a field of study focusing on the design of computer technology and, in particular, the interaction between humans (the users) and computers. It encompasses multiple disciplines, such as computer science, cognitive science, and human-factors engineering. While initially concerned with computers, HCI has since expanded to cover almost all forms of information technology design.

HCI emerged in the 1980s. It was the crucial instrument in popularizing the idea that the interaction between a computer and the user should resemble a human-to-human, open-ended dialogue. It initially focused on using knowledge in cognitive and computer sciences to improve the usability of computers (i.e., concentrating on how easy computers are to learn and use). However, since then—and thanks to the advent of technologies such as the Internet and the smartphone—it has steadily encompassed more fields (including information visualization, social computing, etc.). The relevance of HCI in the 21st century is particularly apparent in the breakthrough of new modes of interactivity, namely voice user interfaces (VUIs).

In many ways, HCI was the forerunner that would grow to become what we now call “User Experience (UX) Design.” Despite that, some differences persist between HCI and UX design. Practitioners of HCI tend to be more academically focused, and are involved in scientific research and developing empirical understandings of users. UX designers, on the other hand, tend to be industry-focused, and most UX designers are involved in building a product or service—for example, a smartphone app or a website. Regardless of this difference, the practical considerations for products that UX designers concern themselves with have direct links to the findings of HCI specialists about the mindsets of users. Due to this, there is little point in separating these realms to any great extent.

Literature on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

Here’s the entire UX literature on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Featured article

A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction

A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction

Human Computer Interaction is the academic discipline that most of us think of as UI design. It focuses on the way that interactions between human beings and computers interact to ever increasing levels of both complexity and simplicity.

It’s perhaps easy to see that until the mid to late 1970s that this discipline wasn’t particularly important. The few people who had access to computers were academics or professionals with a few incredibly dedicated (and wealthy) hobbyists thrown into the mix. Without a broad base of users; it wasn’t necessary to focus on how those users interacted with computers – they just made do with whatever was to hand or created what they needed themselves.

It’s a Very New Discipline

Then with the dawn of personal computing; the flood gates opened. The masses wanted computing and they didn’t want to go through complicated rigmarole to do what they wanted with a computer. They weren’t prepared to build and program their own joysticks for the games they bought, they didn’t expect to design the mouse before they could use a word processor and so on…

Cognitive Sciences

Luckily, for the masses, there was a discipline waiting in the wings to help with the tasks that lay ahead. Cognitive sciences (a broad and heady mix which includes psychology, language, artificial intelligence,

philosophy and even anthropology) had been making steady progress during the 1970s and by the end of the decade they were ready to help articulate the systems and science required to develop user interfaces that worked for the masses.


This is known as “cognitive engineering” e.g. building things that work with our thoughts. And once again the engineering discipline had also come on leaps and bounds during the 1970s in order to support this change. In aviation, for example, engineering had already started to simplify the user interface of complex airplanes. It was natural for some of this work to move into the UI field for computing devices.


It’s also important to recognize the challenge of documenting these developments. New systematic approaches needed to be taken in order to record developments and to share these with other practitioners of the new discipline worldwide. There really is, after all, no advantage in reinventing the mouse over and over again.

John Carroll the Edward Frymoyer Chair Professor of Information Sciences and Technology at the Pennsylvania State University says that the discipline of Human Computer Interaction was born (or perhaps “emerged” is a better word) in 1980 as all these separate disciplines began to realign around a single objective; making computing easier for the masses.

You can read the full text of John’s book on Human Computer Interaction here on the IDF website. It’s completely free to read online and our members can also download a free copy to their preferred e-book reader.

Header Image: Author//Copyright holder: Glasbergen. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved. Img

Imgs: Cognitive Science, Robotics, Diagram

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Learn more about Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

Take a deep dive into Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) with our course Human-Computer Interaction - HCI.

Interactions between computers and humans should be as intuitive as conversations between two humans—and yet many products and services fail to achieve this. So, what do you need to know so as to create an intuitive user experience? Human psychology? Emotional design? Specialized design processes? The answer is, of course, all of the above, and this course will cover them all.

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is about understanding what it means to be a user of a computer (which is more complicated than it sounds), and therefore how to create related products and services that work seamlessly. It’s an important skill to master, because it gives any company the perspective and knowledge needed to build products that work more efficiently and therefore sell better. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the Computer and IT occupation to grow by 12% from 2014–2024, faster than the average for all occupations. This goes to show the immense demand in the market for professionals equipped with the right computer and IT skills.

This course provides a comprehensive introduction and deep dive into HCI, so you can create designs that provide outstanding user experiences. Whether you are a newcomer to the subject of HCI or a professional, by the end of the course you will have a deep understanding of what it means to be a user and how to implement user-centered design for the best possible results.

This course is based on in-depth videos created by the amazing Alan Dix. You'll be in great company with this renowned professor from Lancaster University, a specialist in HCI and co-author of the classic textbook, Human-Computer Interaction.

All literature


Ch 31: Ethnography

The concern to balance detailed documentation of events with insights into the meaning of those events is the enduring hallmark of ethnography. (Fielding 1994: 154) [The] immortal ordinary society ... is only discoverable. It is not imaginable. It cannot be imagined but is only actually found out, and just in any actual case. The way it is done...

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Mobile Computing

Ch 9: Mobile Computing

One of the things that makes mobile computing an interesting topic of research and design is that the area is strongly driven by innovation, characterised by rapidly evolving use, and has enormous market potential and growth. New technologies are constantly being developed, new use domains are constantly being explored, and successful new ideas ...

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Industrial Design

Ch 6: Industrial Design

In loving memory of Prof. Dr. Kees OverbeekeJuly 18th, 1952 - October 8th, 2011 Kees left us unexpectedly on October 8th 2011, after a lifetime of dedication and warmth towards all the people who surrounded him. He was a passionate man. Kees was inspired, inspiring, engaging, dedicated, provocative and direct. He did not like easy and he was...

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Affective Computing

Ch 12: Affective Computing

As Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Interaction Design moved from designing and evaluating work-oriented applications towards dealing with leisure-oriented applications, such as games, social computing, art, and tools for creativity, we have had to consider e.g. what constitutes an experience, how to deal with users’ emotions, and understand...

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Computer Supported Cooperative Work

Ch 27: Computer Supported Cooperative Work

Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) is a community of behavioral researchers and system builders at the intersection of collaborative behaviors and technology. The collaboration can involve a few individuals or a team, it can be within or between organizations, or it can involve an online community that spans the globe. CSCW addresses how...

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Cognitive ergonomics

Ch 1: Cognitive ergonomics

Cognitive Ergonomics, also known as Cognitive Engineering, is an engineering discipline that is concerned with supporting cognitive work. The aim of the intervention can be the design of an artifact (cognitive design (Dowell and Long 1998)), a training program, or work redesign. Since any human activity-even so-called “physical work”-involves ...

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Philosophy of Interaction

Ch 11: Philosophy of Interaction

Over the last two decades, interaction design has emerged as a design discipline alongside traditional design disciplines such as graphics design and furniture design. While it is almost tautological that furniture designers design furniture, it is less obvious what the end product of interaction design is. Löwgren's answer is "in...

Book chapter
User Interface Design Adaptation

Ch 39: User Interface Design Adaptation

This chapter aims to help user interface designers and developers understand the issues involved in multi-device interactive applications, which can be accessed through mobile and stationary devices, even exploiting different interaction modalities (graphical, vocal, etc.). The chapter provides a discussion of the possible solutions in terms of ...

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Semi-structured qualitative studies

Ch 52: Semi-structured qualitative studies

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) addresses problems of interaction design: delivering novel designs, evaluating existing designs, and understanding user needs for future designs. Qualitative methods have an essential role to play in this enterprise, particularly in understanding user needs and behaviours and evaluating situated use of technology...

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Design for All

Ch 42: Design for All

42.1 What is Design for All?Contemporary interactive technologies and environments are used by a multitude of users with diverse characteristics, needs and requirements, including able-bodied and disabled people, people of all ages, people with different skills and levels of expertise, people from all over the world with different languages, cul...

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Tactile Interaction

Ch 20: Tactile Interaction

The following chapter describes a variety of ways in which Tactile Interaction may be used to enhance the human computer interface, i.e. the design of interactive products. Opening with a general discussion on a broad range of potential applications for Tactile Interaction, the chapter quickly moves onto to consider the key physical, perceptual ...

Book chapter
Emotion and website design

Ch 40: Emotion and website design

This chapter is about hedonic or affective elements (footnote 1) of website design and the potential of such design to elicit emotion in the user. In an online environment hedonic elements of website design include color, images, shapes, and use of photographs, among other characteristics, which are expected to provide the user with emotional ap...

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Experimental Methods in Human-Computer Interaction

Ch 34: Experimental Methods in Human-Computer Interaction

34.0.1 IntroductionWith its roots in Psychology, experiments have always played an important role in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). For example, early experimental HCI papers include English et al. (1968), Card, Moran and Newell (1980) and Malone (1982). From these early days, the psychology-style experiment developed to become the basis for ...

Book chapter

Ch 25: Semiotics

This chapter covers why and how Semiotics can help advance some of the major goals of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and be useful when designing interactive products. It begins with brief definitions and explanations of a few central concepts in Semiotics. This is followed by a discussion of harder challenges involved in bringing Semiotics in...

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Ch 21: Somaesthetics

What is somaesthetics and why should it appear as a core article in an encyclopedia devoted to Human-Computer Interaction and Interaction Design? Readers trained in design studies and informational technology should not feel guilty if the term strikes them as unfamiliar and even difficult to decipher or pronounce. As a new interdisciplinary...

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Action Research

Ch 33: Action Research

Technology and action are two elements that define what it is to be human. It is technology that has made Homo sapiens such a successful species, and it is the actions enabled by technology that will ensure that we continue to be successful à or meet our doom. No technological development has any value without action. Action Research (AR) is all...

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Formal Methods

Ch 29: Formal Methods

The use of Formal Methods in human-computer interaction dates back to its earliest days as a growing discipline, including Phyllis Reisner's use of BNF to specify user interfaces in 1981 (Reisner 1981) and the author's own first paper on the topic at the first British HCI Conference in 1985 (Dix and Runciman 1985). To some extent, Formal Method...

Book chapter

Ch 28: Phenomenology

Phenomenology begins as a rigorous and systematic study of consciousness in the work of Edmund Husserl at the start of the 20th century. Phenomenological research has direct relevance to design since the artifacts, tools, and technologies that we make affect the way that we experience our surroundings, and this is what phenomenology studies. Emp...

Book chapter
Open User Innovation

Ch 18: Open User Innovation

Almost 30 years ago, researchers began a systematic study of innovation by end users and user firms. At that time, the phenomenon was generally regarded as a minor oddity. Today, it is clear that innovation by users, generally openly shared, is a very powerful and general phenomenon. It is rapidly growing due to continuing advances in computing ...

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