Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Usability

What is Human-Computer Interaction and how does it relate to user interface design?

Human-Computer Interaction (often abbreviated as HCI) is an interdisciplinary area of study largely concerned with the intersection where people come into contact with computers, namely user interface designs. As a discipline it encompasses computer science, behavioral sciences, interface design, interaction design, usability engineering and other fields of study. While technological innovation at the hardware level seems to get all the headlines, it is great user interface design that makes them successful. A good historical example of this is with the ascent of Microsoft and how this correlated with the rise in personal computing. Windows made the computer hardware and software accessible and easy to use – through a novel type of interface design. Although Human-Computer Interaction also refers to many products with traditional electronic displays and/or physical controls such as microwave ovens or aircraft (here, often the term Human Machine Interaction or HMI is also used), I shall mainly look at it from the point of view of computers, software and their user interfaces.

Human-Computer Interaction, Interface Design and Usability

Two of the goals of Human-Computer Interaction and interface design are to maximize usability and user satisfaction. A poor human-machine interface design, such as using non-standard interface design layout can lead to a number of unexpected problems that could be catastrophic at worst. Improving the interactions between users and computers and meeting the user’s needs regarding the interface design are key when creating successful systems. The design activities relating to Human-Computer Interaction significantly determine how successful systems are in terms of user acceptance, in terms of how productively the system can be used to accomplish critical tasks, and to how popular systems are with users and what market penetration they can reach. Often, the aspects relating to efficiency of use are summarized as usability.

Human Computer Interaction and Usability Testing

The examples above illustrate why HCI is such an important aspect when designing systems. That’s why designing human computer interaction should be done hand in hand with usability testing as early in the interface design process as possible in order to keep the costs of fixing usability problems down (before code has already been written). The key is to apply a User-Centered Design approach when designing user interfaces by focusing

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