Welcome to the lecture "Design and construction of user interfaces". You have just started a basic course in Human-computer interaction (HCI).
This course will cover how to design and construct user interfaces, as indicated in the title. The user interface is, however, just one part of a larger context; the interaction between human beings and computers.
|Bengt Sandblad, professor at the department of HCI, discusses the aspects within the HCI field that we believe are important.|
Human-computer interaction (HCI) addresses the use of computers and other technical systems in, for instance, the process industry and transportation, or in the home where video recorders and other gadgets have become part of our everyday lives.
HCI is the study of how people use and interact with computers and computer-related technology, including problems that may occur and whether the use is simple or difficult, efficient or inefficient, etc.
The goal is to reduce the number of usability problems and make sure that future technology and systems will be usable, efficient and useful. In order to understand technology usage, we have to study the human being as well as the technology and the interaction between human and technology. HCI is therefore a multi-disciplinary field, where experts from different areas, such as, the behavioural sciences, computer science, engineering and organisational psychology, collaborate in analysing and solving problems.
Mankind has used technology since the beginning of history, whereas computers have been around for a very short time. In the 60's and 70's, computers were primarily used by experts, either programmers, computer scientists or people working with data entry. In those days, ergonomic experts focused on workstation design in order to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries, for instance, neck and shoulder pain, or eyestrain.
In the late 70's, the use of monitors spread and new groups of professionals started to work with computers. Ever since, the use of computers has increased and currently almost all sectors of society rely on computers. Computer technology is used for increasingly complex tasks and it must support the users' cognitive (thinking) processes and professional skills. This makes the characteristics of human behaviour and human cognition central within HCI.
HCI is also based on the study of technology use within complex technical systems, for instance, aircrafts, process industry and nuclear power plants. In such contexts, usability, efficiency and speed are crucial for the safety of the whole system.
Well, if you don't you will most likely run into problems towards the end of the development process. The developers do not know what needs the users have, i.e. what the users will use the system for and how. The chances of creating a usable system are slight if you do not know what it will be used for. Nor can usability be added to the system at the end, like frosting a cake. Instead, usability issues and occupational health issues must be addressed from the very beginning of the development process.
One obvious pre-requisite is that everyone in the development team agrees to focusing on the users' needs, usability and occupational health aspects. If not, these aspects will be neglected. Furthermore, you need to know how to organise the project and development work so that HCI aspects can be integrated in practice.
It takes a software development model that explicitly describes how usability issues should be addressed, usability expertise within the project team and someone being responsible for the usability of the system.
User involvement in the development process is another crucial factor, i.e. that the project applies a user-centred approach (User-centred design, UCD).
In theory yes, but in practice no. Even projects that are truly committed to usability and the user-centred approach often run into problems. Deadlines are a recurring problem. When projects run out of time and/or money they have to focus on getting the functionality in place and making the system work. The efforts to address usability and involve users are typically the first ones to go when time and money get tight. The result is a working system, but with poor usability. It may even be practically useless to the users.
There is, however, a great body of knowledge about the difficulties in user-centred design and how to overcome them in practice. Thus, it is possible to take HCI aspects into account, provided that the project is committed to usability and UCD.
There are several reasons, for instance, not knowing how to apply the user-centred design approach in practice. Other reasons may be a lack of competence and experience in working with UCD, or the software development traditions and culture of the organisation being contrary to user-centred design.
The models and processes typically used in software development rarely support usability activities. Consequently, usability aspects are often ignored or omitted. Another problem is the resistance to user involvement and the attitude that "things will work out anyway". Involving users is considered too time-consuming and/or too costly.
The HCI field addresses such aspects. HCI research has shown that a systematic and knowledgeable software development process with a usability focus and user involvement results in better, more efficient and more usable systems.
HCI aspects will be essential in the future. In order to understand why, we will start by looking at the present situation.
In the future, technology and computers will be used everywhere, in working life and in society at large.
More than 60% of the Swedish work force use computers daily in their work. An ever increasing number of workers use computers in virtually all their work tasks. We know, from studies of occupational health problems, that more than 70% of the office workers using computers suffer from daily problems with poor usability, repetitive strain injuries, stress-related disorders and other types of health complaints.
We also know that more than 70% of the large software development projects do not meet the requirements nor their deadlines and budgets.
Taken together, this shows that there are significant, unresolved problems with the efficiency of the software development process and with the way usability and health issues are addressed. Nevertheless, there are a number of highly usable and useful systems. Computers and technology are a necessary and integrated part of society and they have brought great benefits to the workplace as well as to society at large. We could not cope without them.
Thus, there are several HCI related problems yet to be solved. We can see two future scenarios:
Within HCI we are working on making scenario two come true.
The above provides a brief overview of what HCI is. In order to complete the picture you should read the literature and visit the links listed below.