Human–computer interaction (HCI) researches the design and use of computer technology, focusing on the interfaces between people (users) and computers. Researchers in the field of HCI both observe the ways in which humans interact with computers and design technologies that let humans interact with computers in novel ways.
As a field of research, human-computer interaction is situated at the intersection of computer science, behavioral sciences, design, media studies, and several other fields of study. The term was popularized by Stuart K. Card and Allen Newell of Carnegie Mellon University and Thomas P. Moran of IBM Research in their seminal 1983 book, The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction, although the authors first used the term in 1980 and the first known use was in 1975. The term connotes that, unlike other tools with only limited uses (such as a hammer, useful for driving nails, but not much else), a computer has many uses and this takes place as an open-ended dialog between the user and the computer. The notion of dialog likens human-computer interaction to human-to-human interaction, an analogy the discussion of which is crucial to theoretical considerations in the field.
Humans interact with computers in many ways; and the interface between humans and the computers they use is crucial to facilitating this interaction. Desktop applications, internet browsers, handheld computers, and computer kiosks make use of the prevalent graphical user interfaces (GUI) of today. Voice user interfaces (VUI) are used for speech recognition and synthesising systems, and the emerging multi-modal and gestalt User Interfaces (GUI) allow humans to engage with embodied character agents in a way that cannot be achieved with other interface paradigms. The growth in human-computer interaction field has been in quality of interaction, and in different branching in its history. Instead of designing regular interfaces, the different research branches have had different focus on the concepts of multimodality rather than unimodality, intelligent adaptive interfaces rather than command/action based ones, and finally active rather than passive interfaces
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) defines human-computer interaction as "a discipline concerned with the design, evaluation and implementation of interactive computing systems for human use and with the study of major phenomena surrounding them". An important facet of HCI is the securing of user satisfaction (or simply End User Computing Satisfaction). "Because human–computer interaction studies a human and a machine in communication, it draws from supporting knowledge on both the machine and the human side. On the machine side, techniques in computer graphics, operating systems, programming languages, and development environments are relevant. On the human side, communication theory, graphic and industrial design disciplines, linguistics, social sciences, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and human factors such as computer user satisfaction are relevant. And, of course, engineering and design methods are relevant." Due to the multidisciplinary nature of HCI, people with different backgrounds contribute to its success. HCI is also sometimes termed human–machine interaction (HMI), man–machine interaction (MMI) or computer–human interaction (CHI).
Poorly designed human-machine interfaces can lead to many unexpected problems. A classic example of this is the Three Mile Island accident, a nuclear meltdown accident, where investigations concluded that the design of the human–machine interface was at least partly responsible for the disaster. Similarly, accidents in aviation have resulted from manufacturers' decisions to use non-standard flight instrument or throttle quadrant layouts: even though the new designs were proposed to be superior in basic human–machine interaction, pilots had already ingrained the "standard" layout and thus the conceptually good idea actually had undesirable results.
Leading academic research centers include CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, GVU Center at Georgia Tech, and the University of Maryland Human–Computer Interaction Lab.
Human-computer interaction studies the ways in which humans make, or don't make, use of computational artifacts, systems and infrastructures. In doing so, much of the research in the field seek to `improve' human-computer interaction by improving the `usability' of computer interfaces. How `usability' is to be precisely understood, how it relates to other social and cultural values and when it is, and when it may not be a desirable property of computer interfaces is increasingly debated.
Much of the research in the field of human-computer interaction takes an interest in:
Visions of what researchers in the field seek to achieve vary. When pursuing a cognitivist perspective, researchers of HCI may seek to align computer interfaces with the mental model that humans have of their activities. When pursuing a post-cognitivist perspective, researchers of HCI may, e.g., seek to align computer interfaces with existing social practices or existing sociocultural values.
Professional practitioners in HCI are usually designers concerned with the practical application of design methodologies to problems in the world. Their work often revolves around designing graphical user interfaces and web interfaces.
Researchers in HCI are interested in developing new design methodologies, experimenting with new devices, prototyping new software systems, exploring new interaction paradigms, and developing models and theories of interaction.
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HCI differs from human factors and ergonomics as HCI focuses more on users working specifically with computers, rather than other kinds of machines or designed artifacts. There is also a focus in HCI on how to implement the computer software and hardware mechanisms to support human–computer interaction. Thus, human factors is a broader term; HCI could be described as the human factors of computers – although some experts try to differentiate these areas.
HCI also differs from human factors in that there is less of a focus on repetitive work-oriented tasks and procedures, and much less emphasis on physical stress and the physical form or industrial design of the user interface, such as keyboards and mouse devices.
Three areas of study have substantial overlap with HCI even as the focus of inquiry shifts. In the study of personal information management (PIM), human interactions with the computer are placed in a larger informational context – people may work with many forms of information, some computer-based, many not (e.g., whiteboards, notebooks, sticky notes, refrigerator magnets) in order to understand and effect desired changes in their world. In computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), emphasis is placed on the use of computing systems in support of the collaborative work of a group of people. The principles of human interaction management (HIM) extend the scope of CSCW to an organizational level and can be implemented without use of computers.
When evaluating a current user interface, or designing a new user interface, it is important to keep in mind the following experimental design principles:
Repeat the iterative design process until a sensible, user-friendly interface is created.
A number of diverse methodologies outlining techniques for human–computer interaction design have emerged since the rise of the field in the 1980s. Most design methodologies stem from a model for how users, designers, and technical systems interact. Early methodologies, for example, treated users' cognitive processes as predictable and quantifiable and encouraged design practitioners to look to cognitive science results in areas such as memory and attention when designing user interfaces. Modern models tend to focus on a constant feedback and conversation between users, designers, and engineers and push for technical systems to be wrapped around the types of experiences users want to have, rather than wrapping user experience around a completed system.
Displays are human-made artifacts designed to support the perception of relevant system variables and to facilitate further processing of that information. Before a display is designed, the task that the display is intended to support must be defined (e.g. navigating, controlling, decision making, learning, entertaining, etc.). A user or operator must be able to process whatever information that a system generates and displays; therefore, the information must be displayed according to principles in a manner that will support perception, situation awareness, and understanding.
Christopher Wickens et al. defined 13 principles of display design in their book An Introduction to Human Factors Engineering.
These principles of human perception and information processing can be utilized to create an effective display design. A reduction in errors, a reduction in required training time, an increase in efficiency, and an increase in user satisfaction are a few of the many potential benefits that can be achieved through utilization of these principles.
Certain principles may not be applicable to different displays or situations. Some principles may seem to be conflicting, and there is no simple solution to say that one principle is more important than another. The principles may be tailored to a specific design or situation. Striking a functional balance among the principles is critical for an effective design.
1. Make displays legible (or audible). A display's legibility is critical and necessary for designing a usable display. If the characters or objects being displayed cannot be discernible, then the operator cannot effectively make use of them.
2. Avoid absolute judgment limits. Do not ask the user to determine the level of a variable on the basis of a single sensory variable (e.g. color, size, loudness). These sensory variables can contain many possible levels.
3. Top-down processing. Signals are likely perceived and interpreted in accordance with what is expected based on a user's experience. If a signal is presented contrary to the user's expectation, more physical evidence of that signal may need to be presented to assure that it is understood correctly.
4. Redundancy gain. If a signal is presented more than once, it is more likely that it will be understood correctly. This can be done by presenting the signal in alternative physical forms (e.g. color and shape, voice and print, etc.), as redundancy does not imply repetition. A traffic light is a good example of redundancy, as color and position are redundant.
5. Similarity causes confusion: Use discriminable elements. Signals that appear to be similar will likely be confused. The ratio of similar features to different features causes signals to be similar. For example, A423B9 is more similar to A423B8 than 92 is to 93. Unnecessary similar features should be removed and dissimilar features should be highlighted.
6. Principle of pictorial realism. A display should look like the variable that it represents (e.g. high temperature on a thermometer shown as a higher vertical level). If there are multiple elements, they can be configured in a manner that looks like it would in the represented environment.
7. Principle of the moving part. Moving elements should move in a pattern and direction compatible with the user's mental model of how it actually moves in the system. For example, the moving element on an altimeter should move upward with increasing altitude.
8. Minimizing information access cost. When the user's attention is diverted from one location to another to access necessary information, there is an associated cost in time or effort. A display design should minimize this cost by allowing for frequently accessed sources to be located at the nearest possible position. However, adequate legibility should not be sacrificed to reduce this cost.
9. Proximity compatibility principle. Divided attention between two information sources may be necessary for the completion of one task. These sources must be mentally integrated and are defined to have close mental proximity. Information access costs should be low, which can be achieved in many ways (e.g. proximity, linkage by common colors, patterns, shapes, etc.). However, close display proximity can be harmful by causing too much clutter.
10. Principle of multiple resources. A user can more easily process information across different resources. For example, visual and auditory information can be presented simultaneously rather than presenting all visual or all auditory information.
11. Replace memory with visual information: knowledge in the world. A user should not need to retain important information solely in working memory or retrieve it from long-term memory. A menu, checklist, or another display can aid the user by easing the use of their memory. However, the use of memory may sometimes benefit the user by eliminating the need to reference some type of knowledge in the world (e.g., an expert computer operator would rather use direct commands from memory than refer to a manual). The use of knowledge in a user's head and knowledge in the world must be balanced for an effective design.
12. Principle of predictive aiding. Proactive actions are usually more effective than reactive actions. A display should attempt to eliminate resource-demanding cognitive tasks and replace them with simpler perceptual tasks to reduce the use of the user's mental resources. This will allow the user to focus on current conditions, and to consider possible future conditions. An example of a predictive aid is a road sign displaying the distance to a certain destination.
13. Principle of consistency. Old habits from other displays will easily transfer to support processing of new displays if they are designed consistently. A user's long-term memory will trigger actions that are expected to be appropriate. A design must accept this fact and utilize consistency among different displays.
The human–computer interface can be described as the point of communication between the human user and the computer. The flow of information between the human and computer is defined as the loop of interaction. The loop of interaction has several aspects to it, including:
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Topics in HCI include:
End-user development studies how ordinary users could routinely tailor applications to their own needs and use this power to invent new applications based on their understanding of their own domains. With their deeper knowledge of their own knowledge domains, users could increasingly be important sources of new applications at the expense of generic systems programmers (with systems expertise but low domain expertise).
Computation is passing beyond computers into every object for which uses can be found. Embedded systems make the environment alive with little computations and automated processes, from computerized cooking appliances to lighting and plumbing fixtures to window blinds to automobile braking systems to greeting cards. To some extent, this development is already taking place. The expected difference in the future is the addition of networked communications that will allow many of these embedded computations to coordinate with each other and with the user. Human interfaces to these embedded devices will in many cases be very different from those appropriate to workstations.
A common staple of science fiction, augmented reality refers to the notion of layering relevant information into our vision of the world. Existing projects show real-time statistics to users performing difficult tasks, such as manufacturing. Future work might include augmenting our social interactions by providing additional information about those we converse with.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of social science research focusing on interactions as the unit of analysis. Much of this research draws from psychology, social psychology, and sociology. For example, one study found out that people expected a computer with a man's name to cost more than a machine with a woman's name. Other research finds that individuals perceive their interactions with computers more positively than humans, despite behaving the same way towards these machines.
Traditionally, as explained in a journal article discussing user modeling and user-adapted interaction, computer use was modeled as a human-computer dyad in which the two were connected by a narrow explicit communication channel, such as text-based terminals. Much work has been done to make the interaction between a computing system and a human. However, as stated in the introduction, there is much room for mishaps and failure. Because of this, human-computer interaction shifted focus beyond the interface (to respond to observations as articulated by D. Engelbart: "If ease of use was the only valid criterion, people would stick to tricycles and never try bicycles."
The means by which humans interact with computers continues to evolve rapidly. Human–computer interaction is affected by the forces shaping the nature of future computing. These forces include:
The future for HCI, based on current promising research, is expected to include the following characteristics:
One of the main conferences for new research in human-computer interaction is the annually held Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, usually referred to by its short name CHI (pronounced kai, or khai). CHI is organized by ACM Special Interest Group on Computer–Human Interaction (SIGCHI). CHI is a large conference, with thousands of attendants, and is quite broad in scope. It is attended by academics, practitioners and industry people, with company sponsors such as Google, Microsoft, and PayPal.
There are also dozens of other smaller, regional or specialized HCI-related conferences held around the world each year, including:
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