What Is Human-Computer Interaction? (A Complete Guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The study of human-computer interactions gained popularity in the 1980s with the rise of personal computing devices. Human-computer interactions have evolved from text-based command-based prompts to voice and touch. Understanding the history and evolution of human-computer interactions can help user experience designers, product developers and engineers design user-friendly and intuitive interfaces. In this article, we answer the question, "What is human-computer interaction?", discuss its importance, components, modes and explore its future scope.

What Is Human-Computer Interaction?

Understanding "What is human-computer interaction?" can help user experience (UX) designers and other design professionals develop more user-friendly products and solutions. Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a multidisciplinary study that optimises the interaction between people and computing devices. It is a deep study of the physical and emotional aspects of how humans interact with computers. HCI considers several factors, such as user capabilities, preferences, experience, personality, cognitive abilities, motivation and emotion to improve the convenience, functionality and efficiency of human-computer interactions. It includes various branches of study, including:

  • Computer science

  • Cognitive engineering

  • Behavioural science

  • Ergonomics

  • Linguistics

  • Neuroscience

  • Psychology

  • User interface design

  • User experience (UX)


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Importance Of Human-Computer Interaction

The study of human-computer interaction focuses on building a natural and intuitive dialogue between humans and machines. Designers and product engineers work on delivering a superior human-computer interaction that does not require significant cognitive or physical user effort. Efficient human-computer interfaces play a crucial role in humans using digital devices to accomplish various tasks. Lack of attention to human-computer interaction can cause poorly designed user interfaces impacting product usability and increasing the chances of product failure.

Studying human-computer interaction gives designers crucial insights into ergonomics, usability, user goals, emotional responses, user patterns and personas. The ultimate aim of HCI is to minimise the effort a user puts in to use technology. It aims to make human-computer interaction as effortless, intuitive and open-ended as human-human interactions. It researches every dimension of human-computer interactions, including:

  • Behaviour

  • Physical objects and space

  • Time

  • Visual representations

  • Words

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4 Components Of Human-Computer Interaction

Every human-computer interaction comprises four major components. They are:

1. User

The user denotes an individual or group of individuals who use the computing device. HCI analyses user behaviour, their goals and needs and how they interact with technology. The primary purpose of HCI is to create the best possible user experience. In a user-centric design, product designers focus on users' needs at each step of the design process. In user-centric designs, product engineers involve users in the design process and take critical decisions based on how they work for target users. It aims to find a balance between user needs and business needs.

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2. Goal or task

The goal is the task that the user wishes to accomplish when interacting with a computer. Here, the computing device or digital product acts as a tool that helps users achieve the task effectively. For example, in a mobile camera, the primary mission is to click a clear digital image using it. Here are a few factors to consider while designing a goal-driven experience:

  • How easy it is for the user to complete the task

  • Skills required for performing the task using the digital tool

  • Time taken to complete the task

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3. Interface

The interface is the medium through which the user interacts with the digital tool to complete the task. While creating user interfaces, designers focus on building a proper design hierarchy. This involves visual order and content hierarchy. The right interface design makes it easy for users to navigate, consume content and complete the task with minimal effort. The significant factors to consider while creating a user interface include display size, resolution and mode of interaction (click, touch, type or voice). An efficient human-computer interface is usable, functional and convenient.

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4. Context

A human-computer interface facilitates communication between a computing system and a human user. Besides the goals, the context in which these interactions happen is also important. The context denotes the actual conditions in which the user interacts with the digital device. For example, when designing a mobile app, UX designers also consider the impact of the visual design on the physical environment of the user. They check whether the app works with no lags or delays during poor internet conditions and how it looks under bright sunlight and dim lighting.

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Overview Of The Evolution Of Human-Computer Interactions

The first generation of personal computers (PCs) required users to undergo extensive training. PCs of the earlier generations had several user experience flaws and even simple tasks like deleting text or moving the cursor on the screen presented significant hurdles to end-users. As a result, these products suffered from severe usability troubles, which impacted their efficiency. The 1980s saw the development and growth of the field of HCI to study how designers could make computers more user-friendly. While initially, HCI focused on addressing issues faced by first-time users, it evolved to include other qualities, such as:

  • User enjoyment while using a digital device

  • The well-being of the user, whether the device creates a digital addiction

  • User flow, how users move through various stages of the interface

  • Collective efficacy, how the device impacts the team's overall performance

Modes Of Human-Computer Interactions

Here are the five primary methods by which humans interact with computers and other digital devices:

  • Sight: Humans use their eyes to look at user interfaces like screens, to read and visualise the content and make the right decisions to execute a task.

  • Touch: Users use the dexterity of their fingers to operate user interfaces like touchscreens, keyboards, buttons and to feel the haptic feedback (vibrations) from different devices.

  • Voice: Users issue voice commands to complete a specific task. Smart speakers and voice assistants are good examples of human-computer interactions via voice.

  • Hearing: Users use their sense of hearing to listen to music, video and system commands to provide proper feedback to computing devices.

  • Spatial: Modern interfaces can detect and respond to micro and macro-movements like waving hands and finger gestures to complete specific tasks. Wearables like smartwatches and virtual reality headsets use spatial interactions to provide users with a superior user experience.

Future Scope Of Human-Computer Interaction

Here are a few prototypes that companies are experimenting with to develop newer models of human-computer interactions:

Haptic feedback gloves

These are a type of wearable device that allows users to experience realistic touch interactions by offering tactile feedback. When activated, the haptic sensors in these gloves mimic various touch sensations like softness, hardness and springiness. These gloves simulate these sensations to different degrees based on the virtual objects that the user touches. For example, if a user picks up a virtual hammer, the tactile actuators on the gloves replicate the sensation of holding the wooden handle of the hammer.

Pre-touch sensing for mobile devices

Pre-touch sensing is a sensing modality that helps devices interpret user intentions based on how they hold the device or what fingers they use to approach the screen. In pre-touch sensing, the UI responds differently based on user context. For example, it might open the messaging app if the user touches the screen one-handed with the right index and can open the volume settings when the user picks up the device with two hands. This gives the illusion that the mobile can read the user's mind, even before the user issues a specific command.

PaperID

This technique aims to transform inexpensive, battery-free, ultra-thin RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags into simple paper input devices. It aims to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds by giving paper the ability to sense its surroundings and respond to gestures by connecting with the internet. For example, the paperID can record music notes by detecting the motion of a conductor's wand over it.

What Is The Difference Between HCI And UX?

While UX design and HCI overlap slightly, there are significant differences between both. HCI focuses on the interactions a user has with a product and the ways to make the interactions more natural and comfortable. User experience covers the entire journey of all such human-computer interactions. It is about using the study of HCI to develop applications, products and services. User experience is short term and industry-focused, while HCI is more about research. It helps in optimising human-computer interactions and is a long-term academic study.

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Best Practices For Designing Human-Computer Interactions

Ben Shneiderman, an American computer scientist, compiled a list of best practices for human-computer interactions known as Schneiderman's eight golden rules of HCI. Following these rules can help user interface designers and product developers build digital interfaces that facilitate seamless human-computer interactions:

  • Strive for consistency

  • Offer informative feedback

  • Cater to universal usability

  • Prevent errors

  • Design dialogues to provide closure

  • Reduce short-term memory load

  • Permit easy reversal of actions

  • Support internal locus of control


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