Research paper submitted by in the Cyberpsychology programme. Dun Laoghaire Institute of Design, Art, Technology. Author: Jeffrey Moran Q: It is not just Technology which has changed over the past twenty years- the methods we use to interact with it have also altered significantly. Discuss in light of existing research and evidence in Human Computer Interaction. An Introduction to HCI
Whether its waking up in the morning to our digital radio alarm clocks, travelling to work in a car or train, using a laptop or desktop computer in our work place, or communicating to friends and family through mobile phones, it is safe to say that computer systems are everywhere in today society. Manaris, et al. , (2007) state that “Interacting with computers have become an integral part of today’s technology-laden society”. At its core, I believe the work of Human Computer Interaction allows for humans to perform our daily tasks with ease.
Just think the un-imaginable for a moment, imagine if all computer systems on the earth stopped functioning at midnight tonight, can you imagine how difficult our daily tasks (like the above list) would become for us all to carry out ? In fact I believe a lot of us (humans) take the technology we use throughout our every day lives for granted. This forms the basis of my argument, it is certainly fair to suggest that that there has been major advancement in technology over the past twenty years especially in the area of communications.
However it is also true to suggest that humans have evolved with technology over the past two decades and have learned key skills that allows technology to become a fundamental part in our everyday lifestyles. In this essay I firstly outline some clear definitions of HCI. I look at the lessons that the history of HCI can tell us about the emergence of the first modern computer. This leads me to the question has technology vastly changed over the past twenty years or have people changed & evolved the use of technology? I will explore this question by looking at Human centred design and activity centred design.
I will point to examples of how people have evolved the use of everyday technology over time. I will then briefly explore the evident gap that exists between traditional computer science and HCI. After considering the background of HCI, I will consider some of key areas that are set to affect the future of Human Computer Interaction. Such areas include the need for universal usability & ubiquitous computing, the growth of mobile communications, & advances in multimodal HCI including bare hand input devices & voice recognition.
I will make reference to the various authors that I have come across in my research and will use everyday practical examples to support my arguments. However before I consider the future of HCI it is important to point out the key lessons from the history and background of HCI. The Foundations of HCI- definitions & lessons from the past The definitions that most clearly explained the meaning of HCI to me included: “Human Computer interaction is the study of how people design, implement and use interactive computer systems and how computers affect individuals, organisations and society. Myers, Hollan, Cruz et Al. 1996 HCI can also be explained as “Scientific methods to the study of human use of computers. “ Plaisant and North, 2007. All aspects of Human computer interaction involve physical input and output actions and tasks. The fundamental task in computer input is to move information from the brain of the user to the computer (Jacob, 1996). Jacob (1996) suggest that to make real progress in HCI the fundamental task is to seek out faster, more convenient ways for a user to transmit information to a computer system.
The early signs of HCI can be traced back to mostly military settings in the 19th century. In the Second World War ergonomics (the understanding of human factors of engineering & industry) was used to match men to particular machines for combat and more importantly to design equipment that could be used by everyday normal people. (Shackler, 2009) Through the 1950’s and 1960’s computers were designed and only used by technical experts and highly trained scientists. It wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that computing, as we know it today, was to emerge.
Xerox PARC are accredited with introducing the first personal computer designed for the office environment to be used by lay people. The computer was called the Xerox Star and according to Canny (2006), Sheckler (2009) & Myers et al (1996) the star is rightfully known as the first modern commercial WIMP computer. WIMP stands for Windows, Icon, Mouse, Pointer. Interestingly the Xerox Star was a commercial flop in the marketplace and its competitor the Apple Macintosh stole the limelight and was a huge commercial success.
The lesson to take from this, is that a good mass market designed product requires a user –centred design (UCD) approach and should involve usability experts as well as engineers (Canny, 2006). This leads me on to my next exploratory question: Has there been a technology revolution over the past twenty years or have people evolved with technology ? A look at Human Centred Design and Activity Centred Design. It is widely regarded that when it comes to computers there has been a lack of real innovation over the past 20 years. Canny (2006) refers to this as the “Star backlash”.
He argues that HCI has not produced major innovations in the last 20 years, as the WIMP interface in today’s computer is almost identical to the first WIMP interface that was used in the Xerox star in the 1980’s. It’s difficult to find fault with this argument. However Canny (2006) among many other researchers strongly urges us to recognise the important role that humans have to play in human to computer interaction. He points out that as a species; Humans don’t evolve that quickly and often take years to learn things well.
If we take the example of a musical instrument, it can take years of practice and dedication to become affective at playing a musical instrument well. Canny also suggested that the star WIMP interface was designed so well, through a human centred design process, that the resulting computer interface has lasted throughout the decades and that multiple generations of humans have learnt how to use computers without the worry of loosing that developed skill. Therefore good HCI design can be considered as “evolutionary rather than revolutionary” (Canny, 2006)
Norman (2005) also reinforces the importance of Human centred design for technology & everyday objects in today’s society. He suggests that Human centred design is now widely accepted by interface and application designers the world over. One principle that is sacred to those involved in interface design and HCI is “know your user”. However, Norman presents a paradox when he argues that Human centred design can be in fact harmful in some circumstances and instead points to an activity centred design approach.
He suggests that some of the world’s most successful objects in today’s society have been designed without the benefits of user evaluation & human centred design. The Automobile is one such object. People all over the world learn to drive successfully with roughly the same input controls (ie: steering wheel, pedals & gears). Norman suggests that there was no deep research into users. The designs of the automobile initially copied the steering arrangement of a horse and cart, followed by tillers and rods, foot and hand controls, until the current system we use in today’s automobile evolved.
Other ever day objects such as garden tools, kitchen utensils, cameras, sports goods are, on the whole, very similar worldwide. Once again, people learn the skills of how to use such items over time. So why do such everyday items work so well ? The reason that Norman suggests is that these products were designed with an understanding of the activities that were to be performed. Many of the above products evolved with time through human use. Each new designer or builder slowly improved the product from the last version based on feedback from their own user experience of using the product as well as from their customers.
Norman reinforces the argument that Canny made that people adapt or evolve with technology and not vice versa. Greenberg and Buxton (2008) also support the idea, that it is people and society that help Technology evolve over time. They too use the Automobile for practical purposes. The early automobile was considered expensive, noisy and unreliable. It is only after the automobile was accepted by society in general that factors such as ‘comfort’, ‘fashion’ and; ‘ease of use’ were introduced into the design of the automobile. The authors also point to societal acceptance of social networking websites such as Youtube, Facebook, Myspace etc.
Greenberg & Buxton criticise these websites for poor usability. For example with YouTube users cannot save viewed videos so users must be continuously online to view previous videos, users must wait to buffer the entire video even though a part at the end may be all that is required. Yet poor usability design issues are now considered trivial when we consider how modern society has embraced YouTube to become the number one means of sharing video content globally. It can also be suggested that people have evolved the use of Youtube over time.
This is further evidence to support the theory that people adapt and evolve the use of technology. Computer Science Vs Human Computer interaction debate. A wide group of authors from across a variety of leading universities throughout the United States have identified a noticeable gap between the traditional study of computer science (CS) and the study of HCI (Manaris et al 2007). A Survey taken with a group of leading IT Employers (in the U. S) where asked to identify the 20 most important topics for which they believed software professionals had insufficient training.
Interestingly HCI & user interfaces were the second most important topic on this list. It leads me to question if HCI is not at the core of everything software professionals do, then presumably, the products and computer systems that are designed by such professionals will suffer ? The reasons for this inadequate coverage of HCI in traditional computer science education is explained by Manaris et al (2007). Firstly it’s due to the perceived gap between the perspective of the HCI community & the perspective of computer science educators.
HCI focuses on user psychology, user guidelines, and user centred design and evaluation. Whereas the study of computer science looks at mathematical problem solving, algorithms and the engineering of software. Manaris et al. also point out that there is a real lack of expertise among mainstream computer scientists in the teaching of HCI. Using blooms taxonomy the authors hope to assist computer science educators in establishing a home for HCI courses in the computer science curriculum at undergraduate level. The future direction and strategies of HCI . The move towards Ubiquitous Computing & Universal Usability As we an see from the history of HCI, the first computers were designed for well-educated science professionals to be used mostly in the work place. However if we jump forward many decades to today’s technology laden society, the need for ubiquitous computing could not be greater. From laptops, mobile phone, to self service check out at the supermarket, today’s computers are designed to be used by anyone, anytime and anywhere. Ben Shneiderman, considered by many to be the foremost authority of HCI, explains that today’s computers are designed so that information and communication services are accessible by every global citizen.
This he refers to as ‘Universal Usability’(Shneiderman, 2000). He recognises that there has been huge advancement in technology over the decades but states that computing technology is still too difficult to use for many people. Myers, Hollan, Cruz et Al. (1996) state that virtually all entities, from large corporations to individuals, are now engaged in activities that increasingly involve accessing databases (ie: computers) and that their very livelihood or competitiveness depend heavily on the efficiency and effictivness of that acess. The direct result is that the user base of computers in now vast in terms of demographics & profile.
The computer systems,now more than ever, needs to be designed for the novice user to use the system with ease. The main challenges facing universal usability and ubiquitous computing are technology variety, user diversity, and gaps in user knowledge. The most interesting challenge, for me, that faces ubiquitous computing & universal usability is user diversity. Shneiderman (2000) recognises that computer designers must accommodate a wide variety of end users including users with different skills, knowledge, age, gender, disability, literacy, culture and even income.
Dickinson, Arnott, & Prior (2007) point to the glaring oversight that very little HCI research is carried out with older people. They state that HCI research rarely reflects demographic reality. Over 20 % of the worlds population in the developed world is over 60 years old and the median population is 38. 6 years (UN 2006), yet most of HCI research carried out is focused on younger people ofen univeristy or college students. Is it any wonder that the sterotypicial picture of the older person strugling to cope with the new technology is very often the case? The Growth of Smart mobile communications and smart devices
Mobile phone and more specifically smart phones are set to become our new laptop computer. Global mobile phone sales are now at 800 million units per year about four times the annual sales of PC’s or televisions (Canny, 2006). Applications that are Geo-Aware are likely to become the norm over the coming years, allowing users access to key pieces of relevant data whilst on the move (Collins, 2010). Smart phones are about as powerful now, as a midrange PC from eight years ago and is the fastest growing sector of the mobile communications industry. The Apple iphone is leading the way for smart phone growth.
Smart phones are bravely trying to move away from the much-loved WIMP interface to a context interface. WIMP interfaces rely on the text the user types or the mouse input to figure out what the user wants to do. In comparison, context aware interfaces use everything they can to determine the setting or place, the time, and will then provide services or information that it feels the user wants at that particular place (Canny, 2006). For example if a user is in a music store then the smart phone could provide music previews based on the users past history & preferences.
The system is considered ‘smart’ as it has knowledge of other users behaviour, knowledge of your own behaviour history and preferences, and the immediate context information, which includes time, place, weather, etc. (Canny, 2006). It combines all these elements to provide useful real time information & services that assist the user. Another example of smart technology adapting to context information is provided by Collins (2010). The author believes that constraints on energy capacity and water supply will have implications for our use of technology in our homes.
Electricity may be provided through a ‘smart grid’ where devices in the home will pool the grid and make decisions such as whether to turn on the washing machine, based on real time pricing and the available of energy at the time. Collins (2010) feels that innovation in the area of HCI is well overdue. He predicts that the strongest link between the PC of today and the PC of two decades ago, the keyboard and the mouse, could disappear over the next 20 years. Recent commercial examples such as the Apple iPad demonstrate willingness for designers to ditch the keyboard and the mouse.
The Author also informs us that Microsoft has confirmed that Project Natal, a combination of software and a 3D camera allowing users to input via voice recognition, hand gestures and body movements, will go on sale in time for Christmas 2010. Authours Conclusions and Summary When looking back at the history of Human Computer Interaction there are many important lessons we can take when considering the future direction of HCI. We have seen that revolution & innovation with technology can in fact be quite slow moving over time.
The research would suggest that when designers & builders of technology embrace the principles of a human centred approach & an activity centred approach than that technology has an opportunity to remain in use by humans for long periods of time, even decades, without major overall & changes to the original user interface. The reason for this is that humans learn the skills of using such technology over the course of time (sometimes even years) and it is humans that help to evolve and adapt to technology.
The future of HCI certainly looks very bright when considering the role that smart phones and smart technology will play over the coming years. Smart Phones certainly allow for a greater sense of ubiquitous computing. The idea of a person being completely connected 24/7 anywhere in the world would have been a very hopeful vision 20 years ago, but in todays technology laden society is very much a reality. From the research, we can see that the goal of modern computing is for computers to be understood and used by each and every citizen across the globe.
The ultimate objective is to achieve ‘Universal Usability’. However, I would suggest that we are still some time away from achieving this global objective. It is clear that further research needs to be conducted in the area of HCI with older people, people with disabilities, and people with no formal means of education. It is also clear that the areas of computer science and HCI need to engage with each other fully and further integrate the study of HCI into computer science at university level.
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