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What is Human-Computer Interaction?

By Troy Holmes
Updated May 16, 2024
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Computer science is the study of information management and computation within computer applications. Typically, a computer application includes a user interface (UI) that manages the interaction between the computer and the human users. Human-computer interaction (HCI) is the study of human interaction with computer software applications.

The UI of software applications is considered the front line of development. This computer science specialty requires designs that carefully consider human behaviors and preferences. Human-computer interaction is the behavioral study of human factors based on the design of a UI within a computer application.

A poorly designed user interface can destroy the perception of a good software application. Effective design of a UI must look good and behave correctly. Human-computer interaction requires designers to consider details such as fonts, flow, control positions, and overall intuitiveness of a user interface.

The computer science industry includes specialists in networks, operating systems, database administration, software development, and user interface design. Within each specialty engineers learn the tricks of the trade. The HCI specialists focus on screen design for all types of applications.

Screen designers do not limit their work to standard computers. These experts also build Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) applications, video games and navigation systems. Human-computer interaction is the art of building any automated device with which people will interact.

A good example of effective HCI can be seen in the current air traffic control systems. Users of theses systems are responsible for ensuring plans do not collide with other plans in the sky. The user screen of the air traffic control system will change in appearance to alert controllers to problems. Typically, the color of objects will become brighter and bolder as the situation worsens. In addition, sounds can be added to draw the attention of the user to the problem.

Many modern cars include navigation systems that also rely on good human-computer interaction. A quality design here helps drivers find their location and directions easily. As the driver approaches a change in direction, the application warns him in advance of an upcoming change. These systems typically include calculations and displays of time and range to destination.

Modern cell phones also include human-computer interaction design. Using the phone to find contacts, send messages, or retrieve voice mails requires a well- designed user interface. Typically, users of modern products expect a device to be easy to learn.

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Discussion Comments

By spreadsheet — On Oct 19, 2010

I think that someday human computer interaction will become so advanced power technologies capable of handling the task that we will be able to remotely operate automobiles. While technically this is possible to do now is extremely expensive and a custom project that would have to be done by engineers and scientists.

It's interesting to see the balance between human and computer in these new interactions that we have with advanced technology. It's almost a give-and-take situation between how much interaction we want the human heart and how much we want the computer to be able to fill in the gaps of our desired lack of control.

Just as use of autopilot systems have come into airplanes, I think we will see the advent of different types of vehicular control in the way that computers will interact with our human functions and their operation.

By jeancastle00 — On Oct 19, 2010

@thumbtack is right about this analysis in the use of human computer interaction and its transgression from different parts of human society and industry. One scary but almost unimaginable correlation of the human computer interaction inspector is the development of remotely controlled predator drones by the military.

The altruistic thoughts behind these machines and the ability to keep American lives safe and out of harms way is a very good one. the problem with this of course is that relies on human computer interaction to ensure delivery of these highly capable weapons systems to the proper locations and targets.

It's interesting to think that a human soldier sitting at a desk somewhere in the middle of the desert control an unmanned aerial vehicle. this truly is the next step in human computer interaction.

By thumbtack — On Oct 19, 2010

There is a whole new line of work that is hitting the market for employment. Human computer interaction jobs are highly evolved and have now become common in the high-end workplace technology sectors. This technology has expanded beyond the consumer point of view as well. Human interaction with computers has crossed industrial orders and is being used in the widespread marketplace for industrial applications as well as commercial applications.

By IceCarver — On Oct 19, 2010

There so many different forms of human computer interaction now especially as technology has progressed. One of my favorite ways of interacting with computers through my voice. By using my voice is a computer human interface, I can be a lot more productive with the type of work that I do.

Utility for computer software to recognize the human voice expanded greatly over the past decade. The accuracy and word detection as well as the ability for the computer to recognize commands is highly advanced.

What truly makes for a proper human computer interaction however, is the experience design that is been integrating whatever the interface is. In order for the interaction with the computer works smoothly and efficiently, the design of the interface is critical.

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