HCI is multidisciplinary. The prefix refers to more than one, and a discipline is a field of study. Therefore, HCI involves several academic areas, including computer science, research, sociology, psychology, engineering, and more. Today, the typewriter is a long-forgotten machine designed in 1873 by Christopher Sholes. When you pushed on one of the keys, a steel arm arced upward towards the paper, impacting a ribbon containing the ink. The impression of the specific letter on the arm against the ribbon resulted in a black letter on the paper. Although the typewriter is now archaic, the pattern of the keys remains.
The top row on any keyboard spells QWERTY by taking the first five letters from left to right. Mr. Sholes’ invention had the same order because this layout paired keys that were unlikely to be used together. Why? Two keys used together could cause a jam by locking two of the steel arms at the ribbon’s point of contact. Perhaps unknown to Mr. Sholes, he had applied human-machine interaction, a precursor to human-computer interaction. One could argue that his decision was strictly to avoid a mechanical problem – it had nothing to do with the human typist. But it did: jammed keys would cause delays and frustration for the typist.
Whether it is a smartwatch or a power tool, the design must consider the user. From a business perspective, a consumer product should meet a need, be affordable (not always), be easy to use, save time or energy, and be functional and durable. Computers are no different. They have to be user-friendly, which means easy to operate and perform efficiently.
Graduates from HCI programs work in academia, industry, IT, software, product development, research, education, healthcare, etc. One field frequently encountered on job sites is UX designer. UX is user experience, which also involves many disciplines, such as information architecture, visual design, usability, and HCI. UX strives to generate customer satisfaction and loyalty through the ease of use and pleasure derived from the product in business. Ultimately, this endeavor leads to higher sales and revenue.
The medical devices industry uses HCI as a means to discover cures for neurological diseases. A company based in Palo Alto, California, owns patented technologies to conduct brain network analysis. Programming skills and software development are crucial to landing a job in this neuroscience field. In this example, medical professionals operate the device. What about a consumer medical device like a blood pressure monitor? The product development team proposes the device and then tells the UX team to make it easy to use and look attractive.
Another example in the healthcare arena is the application of HCI in at-home medical tests. Thyroid, food sensitivity, allergy, fertility, testosterone, hepatitis C, Lyme disease, COVID-19 testing kits, and many more are available. You purchase a particular kit, submit the blood sample, and submit for the results, which takes about five business days.
Sticking to the healthcare theme, there is a tech company that creates the technology for discreet hands-free use for situational and severe motor impairment. The technology marries computer science with cognitive science to develop products that will enhance the lives of those with specific limitations. The company, Augmental Tech, developed an eye-tracking interface that controls power wheelchairs.
Combine HCI with a keen interest in space exploration, and you could use your degree as a human factors engineer at Northrop Grumman’s Space Systems Sector. Human Systems Integration (HIS) and Human Factors Engineering (HFE), and Computer Human Interface (CHI) are buzz words in space technology. The job is an amalgamation of Human Machine Interface (HMI) and HCI in design and practices.
Interaction design is another field of work, which entails considering many factors, like behavior, sound, motion, physical environment, and appearance, into a product’s design. Many Fortune 500 companies employ interaction designers, for example, Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Intel, Ford, Bank of America, and many others. This work requires collaboration, creativity, communication, and analytical skills. Samsung Electronics, for example, posted a job for an Interaction Designer to partner with Visual and Motion Designers to translate research findings into design improvements.
In summary, HCI encompasses various industries due to its multiple applications, from websites to medical devices. A bachelor’s degree should be the minimum degree to check out the employment situation. Higher salary and job opportunities will be afforded with a master’s degree.