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Encyclopedia > Human computer interaction

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is the study of interaction between people (users) and computers. It is an interdisciplinary subject, relating computer science with many other fields of study and research. Interaction between users and computers occurs at the user interface (or simply interface), which includes both hardware (i.e. input and output devices) and software (for example determining which, and how, information is presented to the user on a screen). HCI


Aspects and goals

Interdisciplinary aspects

Combined with computer science and information technology are fields including:


A basic goal of HCI is to improve interaction between user and computers, by making computers more user-friendly and easier to use. More broadly, HCI is also concerned with

  • methodologies and processes for designing interfaces (i.e., given a task and a class of users, design the best possible interface within given constraints, optimizing for a desired property such as learnability or efficiency of use)
  • methods for implementing interfaces (e.g. software toolkits and libraries; efficient algorithms)
  • techniques for evaluating and comparing interfaces
  • developing new interfaces and interaction techniques
  • developing descriptive and predictive models and theories of interaction

A long term goal of HCI is to design computers that can be exploited to their fullest potential as instruments that enhance human creativity, liberate the human mind, and improve communication and cooperation between humans (see CSCW).

Professional practictioners in HCI are usually designers concerned with the practical application of design methodologies to real-world problems. Their work often revolves around designing graphical user interfaces and web interfaces.

Researchers in HCI are interested in developing new design methodologies, experimenting with new hardware devices, prototyping new software systems, exploring new paradigms for interaction, and developing models and theories.


  • HCI vs CHI. The acronym CHI (pronounced kai), for computer-human interaction, has been used to refer to this field, perhaps more frequently in the past than now. However, researchers and practitioners now refer to their field of study as HCI (pronounced as an initialism), which perhaps rose in popularity partly because of the notion that the human, and the human's needs and time, should be considered first, and are more important than the machine's. This notion became increasingly relevant towards the end of the 20th century as computers became increasingly inexpensive (as did CPU time), small, and powerful. Since the turn of the millenium, the field of human-centered computing has emerged as an even more pronounced focus on understanding human beings as actors within socio-technical systems.
  • Usability vs Usefulness. Design methodologies in HCI aim to create user interfaces that are usable, i.e. that can be operated with ease and efficiently. However, an even more basic requirement is that the user interface be useful, i.e. that it allow the user to complete relevant tasks.
  • Intuitive and Natural. Software products are often touted by marketeers as being "intuitive" and "natural" to use, often simply because they have a graphical user interface. Many researchers in HCI view such claims as unfounded (e.g. a poorly designed GUI may be very unusable), and some object to the use of the words intuitive and natural as vague and/or misleading. For example, some may argue that input through handwriting is natural, while others counter that handwriting is a skill requiring years of training for children to acquire, and thus is very unnatural. Intuitiveness is probably best thought of as a relative notion, rather than being intrinsic to a user interface. Intuitiveness depends on the user's familiarity and previous experiences, and is subject to cultural and other biases. For example, an icon that looks like a garbage can (for deleting files) may be very mysterious looking to someone from a culture that doesn't store garbage in cans. Even a computer mouse and drag-and-drop actions are not intuitive to a user who has never seen or used them before. For more on this topic, see the article Intuitive Equals Familiar from Jef Raskin listed below.

Academic conferences

One of the top academic conferences for new research in human-computer interaction, especially within computer science, is the annually held ACM's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, usually referred to by its short name CHI (pronounced kai). CHI is organized by ACM SIGCHI (http://www.acm.org/sigchi/) Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction. CHI is a large, highly competitive conference, with thousands of attendants, and is quite broad in scope.

CHI 2005 (http://www.chi2005.org/) CHI 2004 (http://www.chi2004.org/)

There are also dozens of smaller, more specialized HCI-related conferences held around the world each year.

UIST 2004 (http://www.acm.org/uist/) - ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology

See also

  • Topics in human-computer interaction



  • Ronald M. Baecker, Jonathan Grudin, William A. S. Buxton, Saul Greenberg (1995): Readings in human-computer interaction. Toward the Year 2000. 2. ed. Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco 1995 ISBN 1-558-60246-1
  • Stuart K. Card, Thomas P. Moran, Allen Newell: The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction. Erlbaum, Hillsdale 1983 ISBN 0-89859-243-7
  • Brad A. Myers: A brief history of human-computer interaction technology. Interactions 5(2):44-54, 1998, ISSN 1072-5520 ACM Press. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/274430.274436
  • Jakob Nielsen: Usability Engineering. Academic Press, Boston 1993 ISBN 0-12-518405-0
  • Donald A. Norman: The Psychology of Everyday Things. Basic Books, New York 1988 ISBN 0-465-06709-3
  • Jef Raskin: The humane interface. New directions for designing interactive systems. Addison-Wesley, Boston 2000 ISBN 0-201-37937-6
  • Ben Shneiderman: Designing the User Interface. Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction. 3. ed. Addison Wesley Longman, Reading 1998 ISBN 0-201-69497-2
  • Bruce Tognazzini: Tog on Interface. Addison-Wesley, Reading 1991 ISBN 0-201-60842-1

Regarding intuition:

  • Jef Raskin: Intuitive Equals Familiar. In: Communications of the ACM, vol 37, no 9, September 1994, pp. 17-18, http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/182987.584629

External links



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