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What Is Human-Computer Interaction

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Human to computer interaction is and will always be an important area of study due to it’s wide range of use (Chou, p. 1). Not only does technology affect people and the world around them, but humans affect technology and for what purposes it is used, as well as the methods in which it is used. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, ‘Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is a field of study focusing on the design of computer technology and, in particular, the interaction between humans (the users) and computers. It encompasses multiple disciplines, such as computer science, cognitive science, and human-factors engineering. While initially concerned with computers, HCI has since expanded to cover almost all forms of information technology design’ (What is Human-Computer Interaction?). Human to computer interaction currently is and will continue to affect the future, specifically in terms of ubiquitous computing, ease of use, and accessibility. This paper will focus on these three categories, covering common problems, solutions, examples and future implementations.

Ubiquitous Computing

“One of the most significant challenges in pervasive computing environment is to create intuitive and user-friendly interfaces. In the pervasive world, computers will be encountered in unfamiliar settings and often may not even be visible or immediately recognizable as computers. This invisibility can frustrate users if they cannot easily control or manage their environment” (Abawaj, 1). As ubiquitous computing continues to evolve, the interface designs must be simplified so that cognitive and physical involvement to manipulate the computer are minimized. “Ubiquitous Computing is a new and exciting paradigm characterized by hundreds and thousands of self-communicating smart devices, taking active role in every realm of daily activities of human life, in every location and context” (Bashir, p. 534). The main component of ubiquitous computing is the involvement of the human body. Digital photo albums utilize gestural input and over-all provide a more satisfying experience for the user. “The photo album uses a limited number of commands with design emphasis being on usability and lending a book “feel” to digital media representation, rather than upon efficiency. This is appropriate given that the motivation for recording and viewing the images is primarily an emotional one” (Abawaj, 5).

Another example is found in performance artists. Dancers will be able to express themselves at a higher level by translating their movement into other media such as audio or video. This type of system that translates movement into sounds and video has been installed into a number of galleries and public spaces. This also includes learning to play an instrument or dance, as visual or audio feedback enhance the learning experience for many. Sports training currently does and will continue to use ubiquitous computing. Training and performance can be monitored in real time or be recorded for further evaluation. Coaches and trainers can assess the athlete’s health, peak performances and statistics to prevent injuries, which can cost a professional their career.

Entertainment and personal communication has a lot to do with ubiquitous computing as well. Movement, calculated by a computer, is becoming more common in the utilization of games and will likely be incorporated into other forms of entertainment.

“The Sony Eyetoy is a very popular toy which places video images of the player into the game allowing them to interact more directly with the characters and there are online games allow a user to control a representation of themselves in a virtual world. Interactive television is at present in it’s infancy, programs having been aired where viewers are asked to vote upon alternative endings and reality shows where the public is asked to vote to remove participants have proved phenomenally successful” (Abawaj, 5).

Virtual reality in the realm of entertainment is becoming more common. People will one day use virtual reality as a means to immerse themselves in tv shows where audience participation is needed, such as talk shows and reality shows. This technology will also allow people to enter into conference rooms, talk, video chat in, and even “touch” others in the room through haptic feedback.

“Where environments have the requisite computing infrastructure, perhaps a museum or art gallery, people will be able to take realistic virtual tours. One can imagine an art teacher at a rural school in Australia taking her class for a virtual excursion to the Louvre or a prospective homebuyer touring a number of properties in less time than it takes to drive to one” (Abawaj, 5).

Eye gaze tracking is already a form of input used in research, for example, analyzing which part of a photograph people look at first. Since common methods of password input such as mouse, keyboard, touch screen or other traditional approaches are commonly subject to surfing and social engineering, eye gazing is becoming a more regularly used method, especially in state and federal agencies. “An example of a gaze-based user authentication scheme is discussed […] In order to login, a user is presented with an image and must dwell upon previously specified points of interest on the image in a predetermined order” (Abawaj, 5). A user would therefore pick their password by looking at different parts of the image in a sequential order. Computer vision techniques are used to track the orientation of the user’s pupils to calculate what the user’s eyes are currently looking at. Gaze-based password entry makes detecting the users’ password by shoulder surfing a much more difficult task. One downside is that this technology may be difficult to implement for those with thick glasses, contact lenses, or those with lazy eyes.

“Eye movement tracking technology involves a high-resolution camera and a series of infrared light-emitting diodes” (Abawaj, 5). This hardware is built within the bezel of very expensive monitors. The camera within these bezels picks up the movement of the pupil and the reflection of the infrared light off the cornea of the eye. This is used as a reference because it doesn’t move. In the future this technology could move into the consumer market with Apple desktops. “If a higher-resolution camera, infrared LEDs, and software were added, Apple’s machines would be able to support gaze information as input to an authentication system” (Abawaj, 5).

Another aspect of ubiquitous computing within human to computer interaction is context-aware systems. Applications are beginning to be more reliable on knowledge of context and the situation around them, minimizing interactions with the actual user.

Applications will have greater awareness of context, and thus will be able to provide more intelligent services that reduce the burden on users to direct and interact with applications. The context of an application may include any information that can be used to characterize the situation of an entity, where an entity is a person, place, or object that is considered relevant to the interaction between a user and an application, including the user and applications themselves [2]. Many applications will resemble agents that carry out tasks on behalf of users by exploiting the rich sets of services available within computing environments (Abawaj, 6).

Human body movement is tied to a vast amount of data including emotional and cognitive state by recognizing facial patterns and common movements and gestures related to certain emotions.

Ease of Use

“Usability refers to the “quality of the interaction in terms of parameters such as time taken to perform tasks, number of errors made, and the time to become a competent user […] Alternatively, usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use” (Nielsen, p.1). Although design principles and patterns are common among systems that use human to compute interaction, this does not mean that usability or ease of use issues have diminished. “Sometimes, usability in practice is portrayed as a mere quality assurance process, or as Gilbert says, a hygiene factor. It is often equated with evaluation as distinct from discovery and idea generation. In many ways, this is a false distinction. Careful evaluation of what exists now can inspire invention and direct creativity towards things that will make the most difference” (Cockton). This means that not only is ease of use a way to evaluate a system, but it is a way to promote invention, creativity and innovation.

Usability is especially important in terms of human to computer interaction because of how fast the field is changing. Different types of interactions between humans and computers produce different results. For example, a human interacting with an Xbox controller to play an Xbox game results in entertainment, whereas, a human interacting with a smart refrigerator results in more productivity. Therefore, usability is not static, but rather unique to the situation where it is being tested.

The uptake of HCI (human-computer interaction) and usability engineering by software development organisations can be terminally impeded by lack of appreciation of their value, even where ease of use is recognised as important. Descriptions of HCI offerings in terms of activities and methods are not readily comprehensible to managers of software products. Similarly, descriptions of HCI activities and methods give little indication of how these are to be managed with reference to the stages and deliverables in a software product development life cycle. This lack of clear association between usability engineering and software engineering in product development contributes to the marginalisation of usability-related activities” (Hakiel).

Usability or ease of use is not only important after the production stage in terms of human to computer interact, but is also important in development. Engineering and development teams need to recognize usability as an important factor in developing software, specifically for hardware or software that humans interact with. From the beginning of the human to computer interaction field, ease of use has been a primary component for users to accept the use of computer applications. “However, the ever-increasing role that computer applications play in all phases of knowledge work has led to the call to broaden the scope of HCI beyond the traditional measures of ease of use and consider all aspects of the users’ social and organizational context” (Bradley). Ease of use is a primary component, but so is the user’s style of use, overall usefulness and time of use. A new model of human to computer interaction research shows that the user’s social and organizational context are important when adopting new technology innovations. “Unlike the traditional models in HCI, which focused primarily on the characteristics that tapped the user’s objective performance with the tool and the user’s subjective perception of ease of use, [this model] provides a more complex picture of the technology adoption process” Bradley).


The final topic within human to computer interaction that will be covered is accessibility. For a design to be accessible, it should be available to any user, at anytime, anywhere. Many people think of accessibility only having to do with those who have disabilities, however, this is extremely false. All people are disabled in some form or another, whether it be not having perfect vision or hand movement. In most countries, dealing with design for accessibility is not only the ethical thing to do, but it is a legal obligation. In Europe, legislation to prevent discrimination against disabled people is prevalent. Designing for all types of disabilities and accessibility may take a lot of effort, but with careful thought is accomplished. In the figure below, common accessibility issues are generally explained (Soegaard).

An example of accessibility in the human to computer interaction field can be found in website development. The first thing to consider is using a CMS or developing from a custom template. Each option promotes its own accessibility problems that will have to be overcome by the designers and developers. Another element to consider is header tags. This can be confusing for developers when certain tags are used that other developers are not familiar with. This also plays into the idea that accessibility and usability are not only important in the front-end of applications; they are just as important in back-end development. Links are important to consider as well. There are various ways to implement links into a website, so this must be consistent across the entire site or application. “Making the Web more accessible for users with various disabilities is to a great extent a matter of using HTML the way it was intended: to encode meaning rather than appearance” (Nielsen, p.1).

Another aspect of accessibility that must be considered when developing a system that humans will interact with is color choosing. It is important to test color schemes with color-blind people to ensure that all types of people can effectively use the website or application. In addition, certain sites require certain colors. For example, government websites usually use the colors white and blue, which help to distinguish what type of site it is. When giving instructions it is important to only refer to the color or something on the application, but also shape and text (Soegaard).

A huge part of accessibility in terms of human to computer interaction is the input source. There are a various number of types of input sources to use on computers. The most common would be mouse and keyboard, however, not everyone is able to use a mouse and keyboard. Most, if not all, applications give the option to display an on-screen keyboard for ease of use or for users who have a disability. Touch screen computers and systems are becoming more common as well, making navigation among sites and applications more accessible to all users. In terms of gaming, which also relates to HCI, source input is important as well. Games can utilize mouse and keyboard, but sometimes users prefer to use a controller, whether it be an Xbox or third-party controller. Giving the user the option is important in all scenarios. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, “Much specialist technology is available for you to use to make your website a more accessible place. Some of the most common technology is listed below. In an ideal world, we designers would try to access this technology and test our sites with it to ensure site accessibility” (Soegaard).

Some tools to test accessibility within applications include WAVE, which evaluates the overall level of accessibility, Color Oracle, which displays the site’s colors in a manner similar to how color-blind people would see it, and Image Analyzer, which examines website images and tests their compliance with accessibility standards (Soegaard). Overall, it is important to remember that accessibility means that all users should be given attention with how they will use a website, application, or any other designed system. This requires extensive planning and designing, but can definitely be accomplished.

Human to computer interaction is a field of study that not many think of on a daily basis, but millions of people around the world participate in this field in one way or another, whether they are a user, developer, tester, or analyzer of systems that utilize HCI. It is important to recognize the importance of human to computer interaction in our society because of how automated our world is becoming. Tasks done by hand two decades ago are now completely automated by a computer in a company. It is key that the elements spoken about, ubiquitous computing, ease of use, and accessibility, are all taken into account when developing systems that utilize human to computer interactions.

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