In today’s consumer market, a product’s success depends on the users’ experience with it. The process of developing new technologies does not involve just engineering alone – how humans will be interacting with them makes up for a big part of the design process. This is what HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) is all about – it is a study of how humans interact with computers (or technologies) and looks into making this interaction better.

How did it all start?

HCI as a discipline emerged in the 1980s, with the primary focus on making the computer interface more user friendly. As the first computer users were predominantly academics the focus was on computer power, without questioning how user-friendly they actually were.

As the access to computers and technology widened, with more people owning a personal computer, it became apparent that their interfaces were very complex and difficult to navigate without extensive training.

Things to consider

The HCI field has been influenced by more mature disciplines such as human-factor engineering, psychology, cognitive science, product design and sociology. As users are all different, there are many factors HCI professionals have to consider in the design process. Below are a few examples:

  • Cognitive styles– Ever looked up at the clouds and seen a face or shape which your friend did not? This kind of personal perception is what we call cognitive styles. Several people can look at the same object and describe it correctly but in different ways. One of the challenges HCI professionals face is to make sure that all end-users, no matter their difference in perception, are looking at something which is easy to name, describe and use.
  • Right and left-handed users – Whilst nearly 90% of the world’s population is right-handed, there are still 10% who are left-handed. This also has to be taken into consideration.
  • Cultural and national differences – Different nationalities and cultures place different value and meaning on colours and symbols. These nuances can influence the impression of the visitors to the site, app etc. so are important considerations to make.

What the future holds?

Trying to predict the future of HCI may feel a little like diving into a Sci-Fi movie. Technologies such as dexta haptic gloves and paperID (giving the paper ability to sense its surroundings and respond to gesture commands) are currently being developed. Many advanced user interfaces are also emerging – some of which use brain signals, audio, eye gaze and head tracking. So, what can we expect?

  • Hand gesture recognition – The hand gesture is a natural part of human communication – we use our hands to emphasise what we say, express ourselves and to support our communication. To break the barriers of having to use a mouse and keyboard, there is a drive to develop hand gesture recognition further, alongside further development to voice recognition technology like Google Home.
  • Virtual/Augmented Reality – VR headsets have become increasingly popular, with sales accelerated by the pandemic. Headsets give plenty of room for interaction, taking us from staring at flat screens to exploring a three-dimensional world. Who knows, one day this may make TV obsolete – why would you watch a football match on a flat-screen if you could sit on your sofa and feel the atmosphere of a football stadium in 3D?.

It is hard to predict what future technologies will look like. Some of today’s technologies were not even thought of a few years ago. One thing is certain – technologies will definitely evolve and there are plenty of exciting new things coming!

If this article has been of interest, and you’re considering a career in Computing & HCI, we recommend checking out our Our BSc Hons Computing programme course page here.