Well designed systems make all the difference.

The discipline that studies how people interact with computers and to what extent computers are developed to interact with people is called Human-Computer Interaction. HCI consists of three components: users, computers and the interaction between them.

Human-Computer Interaction officially became a discipline with the advent of the personal computer. With the first Macintosh, IBM PC 5150 and Commodore 64 used in the office, people started to realise how this transition will impact not only their work but their lives in general. PCs were launched with many new features like word processors, gaming facilities and accounting aids. With time, their level of sophistication increased up to the point where the goal was to make human-computer interaction resemble the interaction between humans, as natural and as seamless as possible.

HCI is an interdisciplinary domain encompassing disciplines like Computer Science, Human Factors Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, Philosophy, Anthropology and Cognitive science.

In the last five years, HCI has swiftly changed from studying the interaction with desktop computers to almost entirely focusing on mobile devices.

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Why is the study of Human-Computer Interaction important?

In Human-Computer Interaction, the keywords are usability, safety and functionality. Also, to produce systems with these characteristics, HCI research must be aware of the following things:

1. Researching and understanding the organisational, social, and psychological factors that shape how people use technology should be the starting point of any HCI project. It is a continuous learning process that develops through the duration of the project;

2. The second most important part of HCI research is the people-centred approach. John M. Carroll, author and founder of the field of human-computer interaction, writes that HCI is becoming increasingly people focused. It has expanded to create solutions for projects like accessibility for the elderly, the cognitively and physically impaired. In this much-evolved phase, interaction designers are no longer in the design business but in the people business. Ultimately, Human Interaction Design is about creating systems and frameworks that better peoples’ lives.

3. Starting with customer needs, we develop tools and techniques to build suitable systems that meet those needs.

4. Create a user system interaction that is effective, efficient and safe.

You start with understanding user needs, to build the system according to those needs. Not the other way around, by creating a system that has to match the user requirements you found out later on in the process,

Usability

Usability is one of the key concepts in HCI. It is about making systems easy to learn and use. It improves competitiveness, customer loyalty and lowers costs. In the prototyping phase, during usability testing, the team establishes the positive and negative aspects of the prototype before it is developed further. Usability testing is based on human psychology factors and user research. Systems are tested in real life scenarios to allow teams to have a detailed picture of how the system performs. Usability is a significant aspect of a system’s capacity to complete a task. It is the difference between doing the minimum required and performing. 

Human interaction Design vs User Experience (UX) Design

HCI is focused on academic research to develop an empirical understanding of users. UX designers are more industry focused and place their effort into building products and services. The two disciplines HCI and UX design and complementary, e.g. UX designers can use the research conducted by the HCI about user mindsets. Because they are time constrained, designers often have to sketch fast to move past industry constraints to access findings that might harness key insights for their users.

According to UX Matters, academic HCI researcher contribute in three main ways:

  1. Innovate computing user interfaces, through exploratory engineering and building complex interactive systems;

  2. Seek to understand how the product is used and how the user experiences the interface through testing in labs or through anthropological field research;

  3. Develop theoretical descriptions about the product, explanations and reports about the design and use of interactive digital systems.

All in all, designers that seek to enhance the use of technology and meet user needs should prioritize HCI high on their agenda.