Sparks of Innovation in Human-Computer Interaction

A collection of two dozen key papers from the HCIL demonstrating the development of the field of HCI during the past decade.
Edited by Ben Shneiderman

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Excerpt by Ben Shneiderman: Increasingly, researchers and designers are conducting experiments on the profound effects that design improvements can have on users: reduced learning times, faster performance on tasks, lower rate of errors, higher subjective satisfaction, and better human retention over time. Theories, taxonomies, and models at differing levels of abstraction are competing for attention. Empirical research has produced breakthroughs in the design of menu selection, form fill-in, pointing devices, and direct manipulation interactions.

Knowledgeable managers are recognizing that excellent user interfaces produce dramatic marketing advantages because they can greatly increase productivity, substantially reduce fatigue and errors, and enable users to be more creative in solving problems. When the user interface is well designed users should not only be performing well, but should also experience a sense of accomplishment and a positive regard for the designer of the interface. Usability testing, guidelines documents, and user interface management software tools (UIMS) are the three pillars of successful userface development. Repeated testing in a usability lab with small numbers (3-12) of typical users performing typical tasks has proven to be very successful in inspiring improveddesigns and finding flaws. Hundreds of labs have been created in development organizations and a society of usability professionals has sprouted. Guidelines documents are successful in promoting consistency, defining organizational identity, and speeding development. Of course methods for enforcement, enhancement, and exemption must be part of the process. UIMSs dramatically speed development and allow easy modification, thereby supporting the pursuit of quality.

Academic research in human-computer interaction combines the experimental methods and intellectual framework of cognitive psychology with powerful tools from computer science. HCI benefits from related fields such as education, where computers are increasingly used in programs ranging from elementary school through professional skills development. The theory and measurement techniques of educational psychology are applicable to studying the learning process in novice computer users. Business system design and management decision making are endeavors which are being increasingly shaped by the nature of the computer facilities. Library and information services are also dramatically influenced hy the availilbility of computer-based systems.

At the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, our goal is to do research on theory and design of interactive systems that enable users to perform tasks rapidly, learn skills easily, and communicate in an atmosphere of competence, satisfaction. and confidence.

We want to replace arguments about "user friendly systems" with a more scientific approach. We emphasize controlled experiments which yield more objective and reliable results, but also find informal usability studies are helpful in understanding design problems. We specify user communities carefully and identify tasks as thoroughly as possible. Then we turn to measurable criteria such as time to learn specific functions: speed of task performance; rate of human errors; subjective user satisfaction; and human retention of functions over time... 

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