Illustration by Erica Fasoli

Modern day product design has come a long way from creating user-friendly websites to designing interfaces that focus on user-centered design methods. In the early days of product development, design was merely a consideration of aesthetic look and feel. Designers played a small role in the overall production of the product or service.

The birth of human-computer interaction (HCI) was inspired by this process. Developers and engineers have a function-first approach to a solution, and their focus is to provide an engineering solution to an existing problem. The biggest problem with this approach was that the programmer’s output language was not easy to understand for non-developers. The gap between the system and the user made interactions difficult and complicated.

Human-computer interaction in the modern-day design

The intention of HCI design is to make the interaction between the system and the user feel more natural. It is a multidisciplinary field of study focusing on the design of computer technology. The growth of the modern-day user experience is a byproduct of the research done in the field of HCI.

Human needs and goals change rapidly with time. Fifteen years ago, the main methods of interaction with electronic devices were the mouse and the keyboard. Now, the interaction between a system and the user can be done in multiple ways. It is possible to utilize one or more human senses (such as touch, sight, and sound) to create a basic UI for an application.

UX designers can use a combination of elements to create a better experience for the users. HCI speaks to the overall improvement of functionality, usability, understandability, reliability, and the rising importance of UX in an application’s experience. HCI also has ties to user experience design, user interface design, and user-centered design.

As explained by Adobe XD, HCI is key to exploring all kinds of information technology design as it sits at the intersection of computer science, human factors engineering, cognitive science, and psychology.

The components of human-computer interaction design

HCI design contains four main components that are interconnected: the user, the end goal, the interface, and the context.

The user

Each user brings their unique capabilities, personality, experience, cognitive abilities, and motivation to each interaction.
Each user brings their unique capabilities, personality, experience, cognitive abilities, and motivation to each interaction. Image credit unsplash.

In product design, the UX designer works to stay focused on the user, often in the form of a persona. A persona encompasses a group of people with a common goal and a shared set of attributes, needs, and pains that affect their way of accomplishing their end goal. Human-computer interaction methodologies can help designers uncover the mysteries behind the focus groups.

The end goal

The user interacts with the computer to achieve a particular goal.
The user interacts with the computer to achieve a particular goal. Image credit unsplash.

A user interacts with an application with the intention of achieving a goal. UX designers should focus on factors such as the complexity of the task, the time spent on achieving the goal, and whether the user reaches the end goal.

The interface

The interface acts as the medium that connects the user and the computer.
The interface acts as the medium that connects the user and the computer. Image credit unsplash.

In human-computer interaction, the medium or the interface is a core component. The interface can be on a personal computer, laptop, smartphone, or any other device that accepts input. Designers should focus on factors such as the layout of the application, navigation, input and output, colors, icons, and other graphics when considering the interface.

The context

The context defines when and where the user is going to interact with the product or service.
The context defines when and where the user is going to interact with the product or service. Image credit unsplash.

The context describes the actual conditions under which the product or service is used. The most commonly recognized contexts are physical context, temporal context, task context, social context, and technical and information context:

  • Physical context deals with the spatial location, functional place and space, sensed environmental attributes, movements, and mobility.
  • Temporal context focuses on duration, time of the day, before-during-after, and actions related to time.
  • Task context focuses on multitasking, interruptions, and task type. Social context focuses on personas, interpersonal actions, and culture.
  • Technical and information context focuses on other system and services, interoperability, mixed reality, informational artifacts, and access.

The user makes use of the application or the interface in a certain context. Users don’t have a specific time or a place to view or interact with the interface. UX designers should focus on the context of usage in different environments for the interfaces and consider an interface design that supports both the ambient environment and the artificial environment.

The relationship between HCI design components is significant because devices have an unlimited number of users. UX designers can use this opportunity to analyze interactions and to create designs which are efficient, usable, and meaningful, no matter who the user is.

The fundamental principles of HCI design

There are two general principles of HCI design that UX designers should consider when designing interfaces for human-computer interaction:

Information processing

In HCI design, information processing speaks to how information is processed and how fast can it be done.

Human information processing

In a Johns Hopkins study, researchers found that humans think the same as computers. The brain processes, calculates, and produces outputs similar to the central processing system of a computer. Human outputs can be verbal, emotional, or physical.

The human as a component

HCI design acknowledges the human as a fundamental element in the design. The whole interaction is centered around the human. The UX designer’s job is to understand the human mind and design the necessary interaction via the computer.

Perception

Perception varies according to the user. HCI design helps UX designers to understand these perceptions and to create better interactions.

Color

Color is a core element when designing graphical user interfaces. The color psychology of human-computer interaction is a complex area of study, and the perception of color is based on cultural and societal factors. UX designers should exercise caution when creating color palettes because of these factors.

Patterns

Patterns are vital to HCI design in order to keep the design consistent. Patterns help users create mental models for the interactions that they are making. These patterns help users navigate through the application easily.

Positioning

The positioning of an object on an interface is vital to improve the affordance, understandability, and discoverability of the interaction. UX designers should always focus on making the interactions uncomplicated for the user. To measure how users behave, UX designers and researchers could look to the two following types of the behavioral models:

  • Predictive models: Predictive models are used to compare and evaluate motor behavior in the design of interfaces and systems.
  • Descriptive models: Descriptive models are models of human movement.  They are commonly visible in HCI design and ergonomics. They help to predict the time it takes for a user to move to another target to interact with an object.

HCI design principles help designers scope research accurately and effectively.

The impact of HCI design in UX

Modern user experience design has evolved through the research conducted on HCI design techniques. Areas such as interaction design, user-centered design, and micro-interactions have benefited from research to find the best engagement methodologies to improve product usability, functionality, and the delightful experience of the user. HCI design has helped influence UX design techniques.

Here are four design principles that have been influenced by HCI design:

Goal-driven design

Goal-driven design is fundamental to HCI design. It holds problem solving as the most important factor in product design. Goal-driven design focuses on making the interactions between the user and the system as smooth as possible when achieving the end goal.

Improved usability

Usable applications create better user experiences. The usability ensures that the user will interact with the application going through the core components such as learnability, efficiency, error rate, and error recovery of the application without getting stressed out. UX designers should familiarize themselves with the mental models of their application so they can implement meaningful human-computer interface design for their intended user group.

Positive emotional responses

HCI design can help UX designers create positive emotions through colors, consistent elements, animations, and interactions.

Put humans first

In product design, designing for the correct set of users is necessary to create meaningful interactions between the computer and the human. Using personas, UX designers can create a delightful experience for their users. Emotions influence designers to create better product behavior.

Final thoughts

The importance of HCI design is understood by many UX professionals in the digital world. We interact with many products and services daily, and the interactions designers make define the retainability of a product or service. If the solution is productive and the interactions are simple to understand, there is a high possibility of creating a delightful experience for the user. HCI design makes design accessible for every human regardless of their mental or physical capability. A UX designer’s job is to make sure that their design sends the correct message and delivers a delightful experience to the user by combining user experience best practices and user research.