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A Unit of the Institute For Advanced Computer Studies

The 15th Anniversary (May 1998) of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory (HCIL) is an occasion for celebrating and reflecting. Contemporary user interfaces are improving, but users' dependence on them has raised expectations substantially. Life-critical work, commercial success, and educational outcomes depend heavily on the quality of user interface design.

HCIL faculty, staff, and students have conducted leading edge interdisciplinary research on theory and design of interactive systems. We believe that successful systems enable users to perform tasks, learn skills, and communicate in a predictable atmosphere of competence, control, and satisfaction. When the user interface is well-designed, learning times are short, performance is rapid and error rates are low. Users should also experience a sense of accomplishment, responsibility for their work, and a positive regard for the interface designer.

We have developed theories, built systems, and conducted experiments in hypertext/hypermedia, touchscreens, menu selection, layout appropriateness and consistency, and information visualization. We have worked on applications such as public access systems for the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Library of Congress, and Smithsonian Institution, case work management systems for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice, home automation systems, educational technologies, and medical information systems. Our 1993 book "Sparks of Innovation in Human-Computer Interaction" (Ablex Publishers, Norwood, NJ) is a collection of 25 papers on these topics from our first ten years. Our annual video reports (1991-1998), on-line technical reports, annual Symposium & Open House help tell the story of our research results.

Our work has led to commercial products such as the early hypertext authoring/browsing system, Hyperties (from Cognetics Corporation, Princeton Jct., NJ) which was a precursor of the World Wide Web. It presented the notion of selectable highlighted terms embedded in text - the hot link - as well as selectable areas in figures - the image map. We were early developers of home automation systems, high precision touch screens now used in many personal electronic devices, and several database query facilities.

The University's Office of Technology Liaison licenses our software: Questionnaire for User Interface Satisfaction (evaluation survey in computer and paper formats), WebTOC (Web Table of Contents) browser for websites, WinSurfer (treemap visualization of hierarchical directories for Windows), and PenPlay II (a fingerpainting program for IBM PC computers).

Our recent work on information visualization has resulted in a commercial version called Spotfire. This leading visual data mining tool uses a zooming starfield display with tightly-coupled double-box sliders and other selection widgets. Special data structures and algorithms allow rapid (100ms) updates (http://www.spotfire.com).

HCIL, founded in 1983, is an interdisciplinary effort within the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.(transferred Summer 1996 from the Center for Automation Research). We seek to conduct relevant research and train graduate students in a social environment that supports individual growth and collaborative achievements. The main participants are faculty, staff, and students from the Department of Computer Science, Department of Psychology, College of Library and Information Services, College of Education, and Institute for Systems Research at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

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