What is HCI?
Almost daily, approximately 2.5 billion people on the planet interact with a computer or mobile phone. In North America, 79% of the population has access to the internet, with the United States leading all countries with over 19% of the world’s PCs. Smartphones, considered handheld computers, have surpassed desktop computers worldwide in usage, according to Statcounter. Therefore, every day, billions interact with some computer type, so who needs a degree related to humans’ relationship and this technology?
The HCI field is not as fresh as one would expect. Information scientist John M. Carroll (born 1950) served on the 1982 Bureau of Standards Conference when he addressed the Human Factors of Computing Systems. Since 1988, the organization changed the name to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In 1994, Mr. Carroll created a research and teaching department in HCI at Virginia Tech.
By definition, HCI studies computer technology’s design and uses – concentrating on the interface between users (humans) and the device (computers). Carroll regarded this computer specialty area as covering a spectrum of human experiences and activities. For example, emergency planning, education, commerce, healthcare, medical services, and games.
HCI Related Realms
There is some overlap with user-centered design (UCD), user interface design (UI), and user experience design (UX). The following is a synopsis of what these three entail.
According to the Interaction Design Foundation, UCD focuses on the user at all stages of the design process. Before design, the technicians must understand the user’s wants and needs in order to optimize its usage or application. By conducting surveys, interviews, and brainstorm sessions, designers understand what benefits the users. Consequently, a product that meets individuals’ demands will sell better, which translates to higher revenue for the company.
User interfaces act as the marriage between the product, for example, a hand tool, heavy machinery, or computer. UI aims to maximize the product’s usability by making it efficient, easy to operate, and enjoyable when needed. A human-machine interface (HMI) occurs with hardware such as keyboards, mice, game controls, printers, and speakers. Another example of UI is the interaction between a computer and the user, known as HCI.
UX or user experience is a design process for the creation of products with the user in mind. The creation should be pleasurable to use, efficient, meet expectations, and be reliable. Essentially, UX applies to any product or service a person interacts with, like online shopping, a vending machine, or a cell phone.
There are three ways in which users interact with the computer:
Graphical User Interface (GUI): These are visual components created by software that show on a computer monitor. Examples are taskbar icons, notification areas, start buttons, and menus.
Voice-controlled Interface (VUI): Interaction via voice commands, such as Siri on an iPhone and Alexa on Amazon devices.
Gesture-based Interface: Gestures such as bodily motions apply to virtual reality games and robotic movements. The challenge for designers is to have the gestures recognizable, and the user must remember which gesture performs a specific action or function in the game.
History of HCI
Computers evolved over millennia. There was the ancient abacus, the mechanical calculator of 1623 (Wilhelm Schickard), the 1820 arithmometer (Thomas de Colmar), the Analytical Engine of 1843 (Ada Lovelace), and the Atanasoff-Berry computer in the 1940s. In 1953, the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom offered the first Diploma in Computer Science. Purdue University in Indiana formed the first computer department in 1962. As other universities globally adopted the program, some preferred the name computing science. Scandinavian countries called it datalogy with the first Department in Datalogy at the University of Copenhagen in 1969.
In the 1980s, HCI was a small focus area with computer science programs. The advent of personal computers, popularized by Apple’s Macintosh, brought human and computer interaction into the limelight. In 1985, roughly 3.7 million computers were sold; by 2000, sales skyrocketed to about 132 million units. According to Statista, Lenovo placed first in the 4th quarter of 2020 by shipping 21.49 million PCs; HP was second with 15.68 million shipped.
As an essential device for many, the proliferation of computers has created programs to study human-computer interaction. There is an age-old saying that the dog is man’s best friend. The computer, including the smartphone, has replaced the canine. Statistics prove it – because 63 million American homes have a dog, whereas 81% or about 240 million of U.S. residents own a smartphone.
More learning institutions offer undergraduate and graduate programs in HCI. DegreeQuery will elaborate on these in another post. Students gifted in computer science, mathematics, probability, data science, and interaction design have many degree options in this field.