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.



Engineering

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.

Documentation

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

Bifocal Display

Ch 7: Bifocal Display

The Bifocal Display is an information presentation technique which allows a large data space to be viewed as a whole, while simultaneously a portion is seen in full detail. The detail is seen in the context of the overview, with continuity across the boundaries, rather than existing in a disjoint window (see Figure 1). Author/Copyrig...

Book chapter
Aesthetic Computing

Ch 26: Aesthetic Computing

The phrase "Aesthetic Computing" while taken literally applies the philosophical area of aesthetics to the field of computing, and work in the area is broadly defined as such; however, in my operational definition for the work we do in my research lab and in teaching, aesthetic computing is treated as embodied formal language. The purpose of aes...

Book chapter
The Future

Ch 7: The Future

“The future is socio-technology not technology”   The future of computing depends on its relationship to humanity. This chapter contrasts the socio-technical and technical visions. 7.1 Technology Utopianism Technology utopianism is the view that technolo...

Book chapter
The Social Environment Model

Ch 5: The Social Environment Model

“People are social environment blind”   The social environment model works for any society, modern or traditional, socio-technical or socio-physical, and for any social level or community size. This chapter links the arcane role of society to modern technology. It describes: ...

Book chapter
Polite Computing

Ch 4: Polite Computing

“Politeness makes a community a nice place to be”   This chapter analyzes politeness as a socio-technical requirement 4.1 Can Machines be Polite? Software, with its ability to make choices, has crossed the border between inert machine and social participa...

Book chapter