Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

Your constantly-updated definition of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and collection of videos and articles

What is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)?

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a multidisciplinary field of study focusing on the design of computer technology and, in particular, the interaction between humans (the users) and computers. While initially concerned with computers, HCI has since expanded to cover almost all forms of information technology design.

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Here, Professor Alan Dix explains the roots of HCI and which areas are particularly important to it.

The Meteoric Rise of HCI

HCI surfaced in the 1980s with the advent of personal computing, just as machines such as the Apple Macintosh, IBM PC 5150 and Commodore 64 started turning up in homes and offices in society-changing numbers. For the first time, sophisticated electronic systems were available to general consumers for uses such as word processors, games units and accounting aids. Consequently, as computers were no longer room-sized, expensive tools exclusively built for experts in specialized environments, the need to create human-computer interaction that was also easy and efficient for less experienced users became increasingly vital. From its origins, HCI would expand to incorporate multiple disciplines, such as computer science, cognitive science and human-factors engineering.

HCI soon became the subject of intense academic investigation. Those who studied and worked in HCI saw it as a crucial instrument to popularize the idea that the interaction between a computer and the user should resemble a human-to-human, open-ended dialogue. Initially, HCI researchers focused on improving the usability of desktop computers (i.e., practitioners concentrated on how easy computers are to learn and use). However, with the rise of technologies such as the Internet and the smartphone, computer use would increasingly move away from the desktop to embrace the mobile world. Also, HCI has steadily encompassed more fields:

“…it no longer makes sense to regard HCI as a specialty of computer science; HCI has grown to be broader, larger and much more diverse than computer science itself. HCI expanded from its initial focus on individual and generic user behavior to include social and organizational computing, accessibility for the elderly, the cognitively and physically impaired, and for all people, and for the widest possible spectrum of human experiences and activities. It expanded from desktop office applications to include games, learning and education, commerce, health and medical applications, emergency planning and response, and systems to support collaboration and community. It expanded from early graphical user interfaces to include myriad interaction techniques and devices, multi-modal interactions, tool support for model-based user interface specification, and a host of emerging ubiquitous, handheld and context-aware interactions.”

— John M. Carroll, author and a founder of the field of human-computer interaction.

The UX Value of HCI and Its Related Realms

HCI is a broad field which overlaps with areas such as user-centered design (UCD), user interface (UI) design and user experience (UX) design. In many ways, HCI was the forerunner to UX design.

Despite that, some differences remain between HCI and UX design. Practitioners of HCI tend to be more academically focused. They're involved in scientific research and developing empirical understandings of users. Conversely, UX designers are almost invariably industry-focused and involved in building products or services—e.g., smartphone apps and websites. Regardless of this divide, the practical considerations for products that we as UX professionals concern ourselves with have direct links to the findings of HCI specialists about users’ mindsets. With the broader span of topics that HCI covers, UX designers have a wealth of resources to draw from, although much research remains suited to academic audiences. Those of us who are designers also lack the luxury of time which HCI specialists typically enjoy. So, we must stretch beyond our industry-dictated constraints to access these more academic findings. When you do that well, you can leverage key insights into achieving the best designs for your users. By “collaborating” in this way with the HCI world, designers can drive impactful changes in the market and society.

Learn More about Human-Computer Interaction

The Interaction Design Foundation’s encyclopedia chapter on Human-Computer Interaction, by John M. Carroll, a founder of HCI, is an ideal source for gaining a solid understanding of HCI as a field of study.

Keep up to date with the latest developments in HCI at the international society for HCI, SIGCHI.

Learn the tools of HCI with our courses on HCI, taught by Professor Alan Dix, author of one of the most well-known textbooks on HCI:

Human-Computer Interaction: The Foundations of UX Design

Perception and Memory in HCI and UX

Design for Thought and Emotion

Questions related to Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

What is cognition in human computer interaction?

Cognition in human-computer interaction includes the mental processes occurring between humans and computers. This encompasses perceiving inputs from the computer, processing them in the brain, and producing outputs like physical actions, speech, and facial expressions. 

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The video above looks at cognition as a continuous input-output loop that goes from action, through to perception (input through our senses), to cognition (mental processing), back to action (the output). Although one might perceive this process as starting with perception, it is vital to remember that perceptions often trigger actions, but at their core, humans and animals focus on performing activities in the world. This understanding is crucial for the design of effective digital interactions.

What is design in human computer interaction?

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Design in human-computer interaction, as discussed in the video, is about achieving goals within constraints. It involves understanding the purpose or goal, like enjoyment or work efficiency, and navigating the constraints, such as medium, platform, time, and money, to achieve that purpose. 

It is essential to understand the materials, both digital and human, and to make trade-offs between different goals and constraints. Ultimately, the central message is that the user is at the heart of what you do as a designer. Understanding the users and the technology you work with is crucial for successful design.

What is ergonomics in human computer interaction?

Ergonomics in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) refers to the design and implementation of interfaces that ensure user comfort, efficiency, and effectiveness. In this video, HCI expert Prof Alan Dix discusses touch and haptics in user interfaces, highlighting the importance of ergonomics in device design.

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For example, mobile phones and cars use haptic feedback to provide users with intuitive and engaging experiences. However, poorly implemented haptic feedback can confuse users. This underscores the importance of ergonomics in HCI to ensure that interfaces are user-friendly, intuitive, and do not cause strain or discomfort, ultimately enhancing the user's overall experience with a device or application.

Why is human computer interaction important?

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is crucial due to its direct impact on the user experience. 

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As highlighted in the video, the shift towards service orientation, prompted by the internet and digital goods, has made usability and user experience increasingly important. Users now have multiple choice points and can easily swap services if they are not satisfied, which underscores the criticality of user experience. Prof Alan Dix uses the analogy of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the context of user interfaces, stating that once the basic needs of functionality and usability are addressed, user experience becomes the key differentiator. 

User experience is the factor that will make someone choose your product over another. Therefore, optimizing the HCI is paramount to ensure the success and competitiveness of a product or service.

Does human computer interaction require coding?

HCI does not require any knowledge of coding. While coding can be a part of the design process and implementation, it is not necessary for understanding and applying the principles of human-computer interaction.

When was the first computer invented?

The first computer, as we know it today, was invented in the 1950s. At that time, computers were room-sized and cost millions of dollars or pounds or euros in current terms. Thomas Watson of IBM famously mispredicted that five computers would be enough forever, reflecting the sentiment of the time. Over the decades, the cost and size of computers have drastically reduced, making them accessible to the general public. By the mid-70s, the first personal computers were coming through, and today, the total number of computers and smartphones exceeds the number of people in the world. 

For a detailed evolution of computer technology, watch the video below:

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Copyright holder: Tim Colegrove _ Appearance time: 3:02 - 3:09 Copyright license and terms: CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons _ Link:

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Where to study human computer interaction?

If you are looking to study Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), the Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF) is the most authoritative online learning platform. IxDF offers three comprehensive online HCI courses:

  1. HCI: Foundations of UX Design: This course provides a solid foundation in HCI principles and how they apply to UX design.

  2. HCI: Design for Thought and Emotion: Unlock the secrets of the human mind and learn how to apply these insights to your work.

  3. HCI: Perception and Memory: Learn about the role of perception and memory in HCI and how to design interfaces that align with human cognitive capabilities.

Enroll in these courses to enhance your HCI knowledge and skills from the comfort of your home.

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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:

Learn more about Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

Take a deep dive into Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) with our course Human-Computer Interaction: The Foundations of UX Design .

Interactions between products/designs/services on one side and humans on the other 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? Human-centered design? Specialized design processes? The answer is, of course, all of the above, and this course will cover them all.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) will give you the skills to properly understand, and design, the relationship between the “humans”, on one side, and the “computers” (websites, apps, products, services, etc.), on the other side. With these skills, you will be able to build products that work more efficiently and therefore sell better. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the IT and Design-related occupations will 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 design skills.

Whether you are a newcomer to the subject of HCI or a professional, by the end of the course you will have learned how to implement user-centered design for the best possible results.

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Interaction Design Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience of the methods we’ll cover. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you’ll create a series of case studies for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

This in-depth, video-based course is created with the amazing Alan Dix, the co-author of the internationally best-selling textbook Human-Computer Interaction and a superstar in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan is currently professor and Director of the Computational Foundry at Swansea University.    

All open-source articles on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

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