Man Meets Machine: Human-Computer Interaction

Pixel506 (Encora Authorized Partner) | November 29, 2021

Human-Computer interaction is a long-standing discipline that seeks to more easily connect users with the technology they need. Read on to learn more about how it will shape the future of technology and the devices that we use to connect. 

What is HCI?

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) can be split into two distinct disciplines, according to Professor Alan Dix1. In its academic discipline, HCI is a study that focuses on how the design of computer technology shapes its interactions with human beings, aka, users. HCI is also a design discipline that uses the information from academic research to design systems for people in ways that are beneficial to them. In summary, HCI attempts to help people to use technology. 

HCI merges distinct areas of study to create people-friendly technologies. It pulls from the social sciences, including psychology and sociology, that focus on human behavior and as well as from the computer sciences that emphasize design and utility, including computer-supported cooperative work, visualization, and more. 

The idea of HCI as something worth studying and discussing emerged in the 1980s as personal computers became more and more ubiquitous in offices and homes. The necessity of human and computer interaction was exploding and thus HCI arose from the need to help facilitate this meeting of man and machine.

How Does HCI Impact UX Design?

There are three pillars that HCI design seeks to support, as put forth by Dix2

  1. Useful. Is the device useful? Does it help users get things done? Does it solve a problem and in some way make the user’s lives better? This is the first question that designers of computer devices and software may want to ask. However, it’s not always such a straightforward question, as users may not always know what they need or want. 
  2. Usable. Is the product usable? Is it easy to use, easy to learn? Does it make people happy or at the very least is it not a hassle to engage with? Users have to want to use a product and in order for that to happen, a product must be considered usable. 
  3. Used. Is the product used? To be useful, a product must be used. To be used, it has to fulfill the first two criteria. There are many potential barriers to use, but a primary one is accessibility. Can the product be easily accessed by many people? How does it gain traction and how does one build awareness around the product? If a product isn’t used, at the end of the day, it may as well not exist. 

These are the questions that HCI design attempts to answer or solve in its bid to facilitate human and computer interaction. 

How Does HCI Differ From UI/UX?

There is some obvious overlap between HCI and UX. Both are concerned with the user experience. But HCI is generally more academically focused and considers theory and seeks to understand the motivations of users of technology. HCI occupies itself with the ‘Why’ behind a user's reaction to technology products. This information is then used to build interfaces UI and UX design that is intuitive. 

UI/UX and its designers, on the other hand, are more practically concerned with building a product such as an app or website that meets predetermined criteria for functionality and user-friendliness. Nonetheless, much of the information available to UI/UX comes from HCI research and the understanding of users. Both disciplines, however, have the end goal of seeing through the creation of products that are intuitive and useful. 

Trends in HCI

New trends are constantly emerging in the field of technology and HCI is abreast of changes. HCI has long identified that physical devices such as keyboards and screens are non-intuitive barriers between users and technology. Typing, swiping, and using a mouse may seem easy, but in the end, they are the means by which we access the technology. Although they assist us to connect to our technology, they are another step or object between man and his desired outcome. This falls under the usable and used pillars in the previous section.

According to the Geeks for Geeks website3,  two new trends gaining traction are gesture-based and gaze-based interfaces.

Gesture-Based Interfaces

As has been established, the more intuitive a product, the more usable it will be. When accessing technology, HCI is seeking to move toward more intuitive technology. Enter gesture-based interfaces. Gesture-based interfaces use vision technology rather than text-based interfaces (keyboards, etc.) and accommodate hand gestures. A hand gesture recognition system that can follow both static and moving hand gestures would be more intuitive. This information would be used to open windows, scroll, etc., with minimal physical material. As a visual for this technology, simply remember Tom Cruise interacting with his holographic screen, gesturing right and left to move, zoom in, and so forth in the film Minority Report4.

Gaze-Based Interfaces

Gaze gestures that use a head-mounted display (HMD) can track eye movements as a way to interact with a product. Gaze-based gestures go a step beyond hand gesture-based interfaces in that they allow the user to be hands-free. The idea being that a user may hold a coffee, pick up his/her child and still navigate a website. Not only does this eliminate the need for a mouse, a keyboard, etc., but the technology also invites users to simply look where they want to go to navigate. It doesn’t get much more intuitive than this— connecting the machine to the human eye. 

Final Thoughts

As technology’s role in society and daily life grows, the field of HCI will be working to make sure that humans are able to use technology to achieve their goals in the easiest and most human-friendly way possible. HCI’s role in user interactions with technology and its importance will likely grow as time passes and technology advances the idea of what is possible. 

 

Key Takeaways

  • Human Computer Interaction (HCI) can be split into two distinct disciplines. In its academic discipline, HCI is a study that focuses on how the design of computer technology shapes its interactions with human beings, aka, users.
  • HCI is also a design discipline that uses the information from academic research to design systems for people in ways that are beneficial to them.
  • There are three pillars that HCI design seeks to support: useful, usable, used
  •  HCI vs UI/UX? While the two overlap, HCI is generally more academically focused and considers theory and seeks to understand the motivations of users of technology.
  • Two new trends gaining traction are gesture-based and gaze-based interfaces.

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[1] https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/human-computer-interaction

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/new-trends-in-human-computer-interaction/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJqbivkm0Ms

About Encora

If you are looking for a software partner who will work towards your business goals and success, Encora is your solution. Curious to learn more about HCI and how to implement HCI design into your projects? Get in touch today!

 

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