Human-computer Interaction: Significance for UX Designers
What is Human-computer interaction and why is it important for UI/UX designers? Learn all you need to know about HCI with the help of real-world examples.
The history of technology, particularly when it comes to the design and development of computer technology, is quite an interesting one. Starting from very simple, but bulky machines, we now have fast processors in the palm of our hands. Over the years, the design of these technologies has developed in a variety of ways. If we only look at mobile phones, from the use of physical push buttons to touchscreen devices, we have come a long way. Although the field of UI/UX design does not go as far back as the history of technology itself, the design process, as we know it today, has indeed benefitted from the experiences of users as well as UX designers interacting with old physical and digital devices.
The way people use technological artifacts, and how humans and computers interact with each other, is one of the critical aspects of design. Scholars and researchers have spent their lives figuring out the ways in which user interface design can be improved, to create the best possible experience for the target audience. This is why the study of these interactions between humans and machines – or computers – has immense significance, so much so, that an entire field of human-computer interaction is dedicated to studying these instances where humans and machines meet, with the users aiming to achieve certain specific goals.
In this article, we introduce the concept of human-computer interaction (HCI). We define HCI, discuss its importance in UI/UX design, highlight its major components, and also provide real-world examples to illustrate the concept.
Read along as we discuss the points of interaction between humans and computers.
Introduction to human-computer interaction (HCI)
Human-computer interaction (HCI), as the name indicates, is the exploration of the relationship between humans and computers. Other terms, such as human-machine interaction, are also used at times. However, with digital interfaces becoming ubiquitous, almost all machines have a computational element to them.
What is human-computer interaction?
Human-computer interaction is a specialized field of study focusing on the design and use of computer technologies. The primary goal is to understand how users interact with technologies, and in what ways are their motives supported or hindered by these interactions.
HCI focuses on the design of computing devices and systems, with the aim of improving the understanding and improving the ways in which users interact with them. The field of HCI is quite interdisciplinary in nature, drawing from various other disciplines, such as computer science, human factors engineering, social psychology, technical communication, interaction design, and a lot more.
This overlap with other fields makes the task of interaction designers both exciting and challenging at the same time. It is important to note, when thinking about HCI or computer design, technologies alone can only do much. Users and use settings – or context – are equally, if not more, important than the design of physical and digital interfaces.
Researchers have been studying the design of interfaces for quite some time. Over the last few decades, however, there have been some interesting developments. Particularly with the rise of ideas such as social computing, distributed cognition, and the coexistence of humans and machines in a socio-technical environment, HCI has gained a lot of popularity. Now, HCI does not only focus on micro-interactions, for example, clicking or scrolling using a computer mouse. Instead, behavioral patterns and cognition take the center stage, with researchers thinking about HCI aiding in the design of brain-computer interfaces.
Importance of Human-computer interaction
Human-computer interaction is becoming more and more important in today’s digital world. Before digital platforms, products, and services took the world by storm, HCI was primarily focused on the study of physical interfaces, such as copying machines. However, as all technologies started relying on a dedicated computer system, HCI went through significant development. Now, no organization can think about the design of usable and useful interfaces without incorporating the concepts of HCI.
Why is HCI important?
HCI has several benefits, both for users and designers.
- Understanding users’ needs
- Creating meaningful interactions
- Contributing to UX design and research
- Making technology accessible
HCI brings a lot of important elements to the design process. Now when the designs are getting more abstract, minimalistic, and invisible, it is important to see where the interactions are, and what purpose are they serving. This is where HCI is extremely important.
Understanding users’ needs
With the idea of drawing a connection between human minds and interfaces, HCI helps in developing effective brain-computer interfaces. This means that HCI leads to user-centered design, where priority is given to the needs of the target audience. With the help of some key principles, it gets easier for HCI specialists to be close to the users, to observe their activities in the real-world context, and make all these insights a part of the design process.
Creating meaningful interactions
HCI is all about the interaction between humans and computers, which means that a lot of focus is laid on the points of interaction when users are trying to achieve a certain goal. Once the user activities are clearly understood, giving meaning to a human-computer interface flows logically. The design of any computing system relies on the quality of its interface and how useful it is for the target audience. This is where HCI comes in handy.
Contributing to UX design and research
It is hard to separate the fields of UX design and HCI. When we think about interactions and making user interfaces simple, we are, in one way or another, tying it all to the basic principles of UX design. However, UX design itself does not include a lot of technical concepts from the machine side. HCI helps in improving the UX design process by bringing this valuable information from other disciplines, such as computer science and human factors engineering.
Making technology accessible
One important aspect of digital interfaces is accessibility. Unfortunately, however, this often gets overlooked, thus marginalizing a big number of people. A key tenet of HCI is equal access to digital platforms for all human users. Accessibility, therefore, holds an important position in the design of computing systems. When designing technology with HCI principles in mind, professionals can always keep an eye on the overall accessibility of their product or service.
Components of Human-computer interaction
The design of computing systems relies on several important factors. HCI researchers ask a number of questions when analyzing a design or creating a new interface for the target audience. From the type of audience and their behaviors and the limitations of technologies and the social factors, everything needs to be carefully considered to create effective HCI systems.
What are the main components of HCI?
The main components of HCI are as follows.
Some of the most important components for the design of HCI systems are as follows.
Users, beyond doubt, play the most important role in the design of any technology. Since the primary purpose of these technologies is to improve the lives of human beings, researchers spend quite a lot of time understanding the needs and expectations of the target audience. Processes such as user research help in uncovering important details about the user component of HCI. Understanding the needs of the target audience helps in creating a user-centered design, ensuring usefulness and usability.
Along with the needs of a human user, it is also important to consider the tasks that a typical user will perform using an interface. This is where techniques such as task analysis come in handy, where the designers create various tasks and scenarios to understand the user journey. Once the user journey is appropriately mapped, the design of user interfaces becomes more specific and task-oriented.
No technology, artifact, or interface can be created in the absence of appropriate tools. The design of modern HCI technology needs certain tools for gathering data, conducting analyses, creating prototypes, and evaluating the designs. Several UI/UX tools come in handy in this process, thus helping in the creation of effective designs. It must be noted that any technology or interface goes through an iterative design process, which means that the tools need to be robust and flexible enough to allow for iterations.
A human-computer interface is another significant component of HCI. It is the interface itself that affords user interactions, helping the users navigate the design in a useful and effective manner as they try to accomplish their goals. It is important for the computer interface to be smart and simple at the same time. Whether it is an external device attached to the HCI system or a built-in interface, the affordances and limitations of design must be clearly conveyed.
User researchers put a lot of emphasis on observing real users in their own context as they interact with technology. For example, people may use mobile devices while sitting on a couch or traveling in a subway – the context changes how they interact with the technology. With the help of techniques such as contextual inquiry and interviews, designers can understand human emotions and behaviors in a better way. When it comes to context, HCI considers all the collective and individual factors that can impact the level and type of interaction with technology.
Examples of Human-computer interaction
We live in a world laden with technologies and computer interfaces. From our smartphones and laptop devices to automatic vehicles and eye-tracking systems, there are myriad examples of HCI at work. Most of the devices have now shifted to graphical user interfaces. However, this is not the only area where the concepts of HCI are applicable.
What are some real-life examples of HCI?
Some of the most popular examples of HCI are listed below.
- Wearable technologies
- Voice assistants
- Virtual reality
Some of the interesting examples of HCI from the real world are as follows.
Wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, are unique examples of the application of HCI. Given that these computing technologies are really small, small enough to fit on the wrist, but include sophisticated features such as typing a text, placing orders, etc., is a remarkable example of smart user interaction.
Voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa, are another remarkable example of HCI. These devices do not have a graphical user interface or a physical computer interface with buttons and icons that the users can directly manipulate. However, the functionality of these devices is quite impressive. Voice assistants have revolutionized personal computing, and their role in accessibility cannot be overstated.
Another interesting example of HCI, with a futuristic touch, is the use of virtual reality and augmented reality devices and applications. These technologies take our imagination to a whole new level. When the users interact with these technologies, they are, quite literally, transported into a different world, thus opening new avenues for human-computer interaction.
Goals of Human-computer interaction
The primary objective of HCI is to improve the design of interfaces, both physical and digital, in a way that the target audience finds more enjoyable and useful. When researchers design human-computer interaction, their focal point is the satisfaction of users, which is only possible if the interfaces are easy to understand and use.
What are the primary goals of human-computer interaction?
The major goals of HCI are as follows.
- Understand the different interactions with technologies
- Develop useful and usable technologies
- Improve the overall user experience
- Enhance the efficiency of interactions
- Focus on inclusivity and accessibility in design
When designing interfaces for computer systems, there are certain important HCI principles that designers must consider.
Understand the different interactions with technologies
The aim of HCI is not just to innovate and design a new computer interface every week. A significant focus of this field is on understanding how a user interacts with an interface, and what type of relationship is created between the machine and the human. This is where a good understanding of human factors and ergonomics comes in handy. It is important to note that people interact with technologies in different ways, based on social, cultural, linguistic, and regional differences. It is important to understand these differences in order to create interfaces that have a wider audience range.
Develop useful and usable technologies
Similar to UI/UX design, one important goal of HCI is to create technologies that are useful, usable, and helpful for the target audience. User-friendly interfaces, both in the case of physical and digital devices, are the ones that improve customer satisfaction. A critical and analytical approach to HCI research understands that the user-friendliness of any interface varies based on the goals of the users and the use settings.
Improve the overall user experience
When designers apply the principles of HCI, the philosophy of design systems re-adjusts its focus in a way that the users and their needs take precedence. The idea is to apply the principles of UX design to ensure that when users experience HCI technology, the interface aids them in performing their tasks. User experience and satisfaction have a lot to do with human perception. It is, therefore, important for designers to understand the needs and expectations of the target audience.
Enhance the efficiency of interactions
With a number of digital products and services available for users today, the successful ones are not merely functional systems. Instead, the bar is quite high. HCI helps in improving the efficiency of tasks, when the users interact with the interfaces. In order to make the most of the user interaction, it is necessary to get their feedback and make them an active part of the design process.
Focus on inclusivity and accessibility in design
There has been a lot of scientific research on inclusivity and accessibility in design, thus criticizing digital representation at various levels. One important goal of HCI is to make digital platforms more accessible so that the user interface is not only for the privileged few. People from different regions and with varying physical or cognitive abilities must not be sidelined when designing technologies.
We use interactive computer interfaces pretty much every day. From the apps on our mobile devices and desktop computers to self-checkout counters at grocery stores, these devices are embedded in our social system. Their presence is so common these days that we don’t even stop and think about whether we’re interacting with a computer interface o a human when performing our mundane tasks. This is why experts consider human-computer interaction important, not only for the users but for designers and organizations as well. Satisfied users are more loyal to the products and services, thus strengthening the brand image, and increasing the ROI. This is why investing in HCI is important for all modern organizations.
In this article, we introduced the basic concepts of HCI, along with its value for UI/UX designers. Modern designers and design systems heavily rely on computer interfaces, which is why it is important to get a better understanding of these interactive systems. As design professionals, once you understand the goals of human-computer interaction, you can drive your projects onward in a successful way. Given that the design of modern products and services, whether in the digital or physical world, require some sort of digital elements and interfaces, a better understanding of HCI principles can truly provide users with the best experiences and improve their satisfaction.
Updated: May 31, 2023