Human computer interaction (HCI) is a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the design of technology and how it interacts with humans (users). Whilst the field originally developed from users interacting with computers, it’s since progressed into considering various technologies generally. HCI considers theories and practises from diverse spheres, such as computer science, psychology, human factors, and so forth.
As we continue to learn and depend on technologies, it’s become increasingly important that these technologies are intuitive and accessible for individuals. In considering HCI in diverse IT jobs in Malta and beyond, we can construct reliable and easy to navigate applications that support the needs of users.
HCI was originally proposed in the 1980s alongside computer development, but today is leaned further toward user experience (UX) design, a discipline that largely considers user needs to ensure ease of interaction for multiple interfaces. Similarly, HCI practitioners observe how people interact with technology and optimise these for better efficiency. In other words, HCI aims to minimise unnecessary interaction with technology—instead, users should be able to quickly and seamlessly figure out how to use technology with minimal disturbance.
Has HCI evolved into UX design?
HCI has never been considered a progression from one field, rather in considering the relationship between technology and human factors necessitated a myriad of approaches to explore user interaction. With the rise of digital platforms and mobile applications, a good deal of IT job opportunities in this sphere surround UX design, user interface (UI) design, and user-centred design (UCD), where all areas portray similar outlooks HCI previously announced.
It’s for this reason that HCI is considered the originator of what we know to be UX design today. Whilst their principles may be similar, there are constructive differences that remains between HCI and UX design. Firstly, HCI practitioners usually stem from an academic background—focusing their work on research projects to develop empirical understandings of users. Contrarily, UX designers are at the forefront of industry assignments, remaining on top of emerging technologies and applying these to present platforms.
As their role necessitates working in a fast-paced environment, UX designers often do not enjoy the same time HCI practitioners do in assessing present research to apply in their designs. Whilst HCI has provided UX design bountiful research to inform their work, designers are less informed on analysing this research and critically interpret these to influence their designs. UX designers should be further encouraged to enhance their discipline to follow a research outlook onto their designs, wherein the end of the day, makes their designs more functional and intuitive.
Whilst it may be easy to understand the relationship between HCI and UX design in theory, it’s important to visualise how these IT jobs interrelate practically, including:
Iterative design: many designers are used to employing design approaches before implementing a project. Iterative design is an important prospect in HCI as well, as it structures design processes once research has been conducted. Designers then design the UI, apply user tests, and analyse these to improve a product.
Accessibility: as technology rapidly advances, so too does its complexity for many individuals with less experience using it. HCI practitioners aim to ensure technology can be used large-scale, including individuals with impaired cognitive or physical abilities. Novel challenges for accessibility typically arise with emerging technologies, such as the application of virtual reality devices. Digital products must be considered holistically and consider user needs inclusively.
How we use HCI elements today
Notably, three components make up HCI today:
the interface, and
the relationship between the user and interface.
Exploring the relationship between users and interfaces are where other disciplines compliment HCI, such as psychology and computer science. Understandably, technology and computers have seemingly endless possibilities and use cases, so it’s worth including lenses from multiple fields to help effectively understand their applicability’s. Like UX design, HCI focuses on making this relationship optimal and efficient, paving the way for easy-to-use products no matter the user.
Whilst UX design and similar disciplines are presently at the forefront of user considerations, there’s still a lot more scope for the field of HCI to develop. Its foundations influenced the development of UX and continues to remain on top of emerging technologies and software developer tools that arises. Their research background helps inform designers and many individuals in technology generally in understanding how we can make products better and safer.
As mentioned beforehand, HCI is important to further explore accessibility in technology. We are increasingly becoming aware of a digital skills divide that causes a gap between many workers and remote jobs generally. As technology advances, we need to be more aware of training developments that supports users and employees to upkeep with products in an intuitive manner. HCI understands that no two users interact the same way with technology, including individuals who are older or with diverse impairments.
The birth of interaction design
A great way to understand how HCI and UX design integrate principles practically is in a new field entirely: interaction design. Whilst interaction design can be multidisciplinary itself, like many IT jobs in this sphere, it’s foundations emerge from HCI practises. Interaction design principles are as follows:
Goal-driven design: designers address specific needs of users and present creative solutions to oftentimes complex problems. Like HCI, interaction designers create products fully focused on user needs.
Optimum usability: it’s not enough for a product to be aesthetically pleasing or minimal, but its functionality must be purpose-driven and supportive. It’s fundamental for designers to assess a product’s performance and that it’s useable for a general audience. Usability can comprise many factors, including efficiency, learnability, error rates, and so forth.
Ergonomics: a classically HCI principle, interaction designers research physiological factors to their product designs. This helps reduce human error and improve productivity and safety in turn.
Emotions: interaction designers aim to elicit positive emotions from users and understand this can be done through various design components; including colours, fonts, and so forth.
The above works to introduce interaction design as one practical example of how HCI has evolved into numerous technological disciplines and IT jobs in Malta and globally. Fields such as interaction design and UX design follows how advancements in technology merits novel job opportunities to ensure a people-driven approach is maintained throughout. In this way, technology is developed in an accessible and positive human context and considers user needs inclusively.
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