What is human-computer interaction?Posted on: November 10, 2023
We all interact with machines and computers as we go about our daily lives – withdrawing cash at ATMs, using specialist software in the workplace, experiencing art exhibits via virtual reality, plotting routes using Google Maps, and asking voice assistants to switch playlists.
How many of us, however, stop and think about these interactions and the extent to which they make our everyday tasks easier or better? Why do we prefer certain software over others? How are we feeling when we interact with tech? These questions and more are the remit of the booming human-computer interaction industry, and the specialists whose job it is to ensure tech interfaces meet our every need.
What is human-computer interaction?
Human-computer interaction (HCI) concerns how human beings interact with computers and technological systems. As a field, HCI is broad and multidisciplinary – combining information technology, linguistics, design, cognitive psychology, behavioural science, ergonomics and more – and seeks to understand the needs, behaviours and preferences of end-users. These insights can then be used to design and adapt user interfaces to make them more efficient, intuitive, engaging and enjoyable.
Ultimately, the main goals of HCI are to enhance the communication and interaction that takes place between humans and machines, and to satisfy user needs focusing on three core aspects:
- User experience (UX) – ensuring users feel positive when using computer systems.
- Usability – ensuring all users can quickly learn and use computer systems safely.
- Functionality – ensuring computer systems operate as efficiently as possible and meet the needs of users.
Why is HCI important?
HCI fulfils a number of important functions in our everyday lives. We all have different levels of expertise and ability when it comes to tech. In this way, HCI acts as a great leveller: supporting users and communities who lack knowledge or experience to access and interact with personal computers (PCs), websites, apps, software platforms and other technologies. In addition, HCI’s user-centred design and approach supports users with diverse needs to access tech. For example, enabling captions on videos for computer users with hearing impairments, or implementing text-to-speech capabilities for those with visual impairments.
HCI also plays a fundamental role in driving business and industry forward. Computing technology is widely used by organisations across the world, and systems and software must be developed in a way that ensures employees are interacting with them safely, comfortably and efficiently. This is particularly critical in industries and settings where safety and safety systems are of paramount importance, from power plants and manufacturing environments to air traffic control and healthcare.
What are the main components of HCI?
If the aim of HCI is to provide effortless, intuitive and open-ended human-machine interactions that mimic human-human interactions – it must assess every dimension of the relationship, and take into account various human factors. This means considering aspects such as behaviour, visual representations, taxonomy, the haptics of physical objects and space, and time.
There are four essential elements complicit in the methodology and thinking behind designing, assessing and implementing HCI design, including the:
- User – What do users want? Are there any pain points? HCI research must explore the complex objectives, interaction styles and requirements of end-users.
- Goal-oriented task– What is the purpose or aim of using the interface?
- Interface – How does the interface present? An effective graphical user interface is critical to good HCI. This includes every element of the interface, from its display size and colour contrast to its font and screen resolution.
- Context – When and how is the system being used? In addition to facilitating better communication, interaction and engagement, HCI must take into account the context and environment in which the computer system is accessed and used.
Visual designers, software engineers, user experience researchers, accessibility engineers, cognitive systems engineers – regardless of industry – must all factor in these elements when designing and prototyping interactive systems.
What are some examples and use cases of HCI?
Speech recognition technology
Used in mobile devices, customer service systems, healthcare applications, hands-free communication, court reporting and disability assistance, speech recognition technology, is a great example of HCI. An evolving technology, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), it enables humans to communicate with computer systems with little-to-no typing. It has widespread business applications, offering speed and convenience to end-users and businesses.
HCI interfaces are prolific in our homes and work environments. Smartphones, smartwatches, home automation devices – such as thermostats, fridges and lighting – smart cars and all manner of devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) rely on HCI principles and design. As we interact with these technologies numerous times a day, their ease of use must be as advanced as possible. Huge sums of money are invested in research, testing and the design process to ensure everything – from the way devices look to the sounds they make to the way they make us feel to how they work – is as functional, engaging and intuitive as it can be.
Eye-tracking software tracks the position of a user’s pupils in real time, providing computers with information about the position and direction of their gaze – whether they’re viewing a computer screen or looking around their environment. Eye-tracking technology can reveal information about human intentions, interests, actions and habits – providing businesses with highly valuable data and insights. Use cases include gauging the success of advertising campaigns or website performance, and operating computer or speech synthesisers for people with physical disabilities.
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