Human-Computer Interaction: An Introduction

Human-computer interaction is a field of study focusing on how people use computers and how to design those machines to best serve the users. Here, our expert explains the basics of the discipline.

Written by Nick Babich
Published on May. 31, 2023
Human-Computer Interaction: An Introduction
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Human-computer interaction is the discipline that studies how people interact with computers and explores how to design them so that they can support and enhance human activities. This article will explore the field of human-computer interaction and share fundamental principles that a product team needs to follow if they want to design intuitive, efficient, and satisfying products for people.

What Is Human-Computer Interaction?

Human-computer interaction is the discipline that studies how people interact with computers and explores how to design them so that they can support and enhance human activities.

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Types of Human-Computer Interaction

Human-computer interaction is a broad discipline that encompasses many different subfields. Three foundational fields have a major impact on human-computer interaction, however.

Human-Computer Interaction Subfields

  1. Human factors and ergonomics.
  2. Interaction design.
  3. Accessibility and assistive technology.


1. Human factors and ergonomics

Human factors research seeks to understand how the characteristics of people can influence their performance when they interact with products or systems. Some examples of human factors include perception, cognition and physical abilities. 

Ergonomics is the application of human factors to product design. Ergonomics directly impacts work productivity and safety. Products with good ergonomics are more comfortable to use and make work processes safer and more efficient because they are designed according to human needs. 


2. Interaction design 

Interaction design focuses on the design of interactive products. Its a user-centered design approach that involves understanding the needs, goals, and behaviors of the people who will use a product. Its purpose is to create products that are both easy and efficient to use.


3. Accessibility and assistive technology

Good design is accessible design. Initially, accessibility was a part of interaction design, but as digital products became more complex, accessibility necessarily became a separate discipline. 

Accessibility is the study of how technology can be made accessible to various groups of users, including people with disabilities. Teams achieve this goal by making the user interface compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards. These recommendations include using proper font size and color contrast to make text and functional elements legible and readable, preventing motion sickness in design by using safe visual effects, and supporting assistive technology like screen readers so that users with poor eyesight can rely on assistive technology to interact with the product. 


How to Design Good Human-Computer Interaction

Good human-computer interaction design follows a few essential principles.

Essential Principles of Human-Computer Interaction

  1. Conduct user research.
  2. Use familiar design patterns.
  3. Make interactions efficient and predictable.
  4. Craft aesthetically pleasing design.
  5. Define usability metrics that guide product development.


1. Conduct user research

First and foremost, you need to understand the needs, goals and behaviors of the people who will use your product. You can conduct user research through user interviews, diary studies, usability testing, and other research methods. Product creators use the insights collected from the research to create a user persona, which is an archetype of an ideal user. This user persona becomes a foundational element of the product design process; all product design decisions are evaluated in accordance with user persona. 


2. Use familiar design patterns

When people start interacting with a new product, they have certain expectations about how it should function. Most of the time, people feel more comfortable when the user interface looks and behaves the same way as the interfaces theyve used before. The similarity helps them learn how to use the product faster and minimizes the number of mistakes that users can make when interacting with a product. 

So, if you’re designing for a particular platform, the first thing you need to do is to learn the platform guidelines and research competitors in your product niche. Doing so will help you to design a product that matches the expectations of your target audience. For example, suppose you design an iOS mobile app. In that case, you should check Apples Human Interface Guidelines and research your competitors apps (i.e., apps from the same category in the App Store).


3. Make interactions efficient and predictable

Why do people want to use your product? Because they have a particular goal they want to achieve and expect your product will help them with that. So, you need to know what tasks users want to do in your product. 

You should identify critical tasks and optimize your interface according to them, which means that you should make the most important and frequently used functional controls either visible on the home screen or easily findable. Users shouldn’t have to make a lot of clicks/taps to access your products main feature. Rely on the tried-and-tested, empirical three-click rule that states that a user of a product should be able to find any information with no more than three mouse clicks.

Human-computer interaction is a dialog between a user and a computer. When users interact with a machine, they naturally expect to receive feedback. Feedback acts as acknowledgment for user interactions — it lets people know that the system received their request and is working on it. Depending on the nature of a product and interaction, the feedback can be visual (i.e., changing the color of a button when a person clicks it), haptic (i.e., tactile feedback from a touch screen), auditory (i.e., sound that the system plays when it’s doing something), or a combination of all these. 


4. Craft Aesthetically pleasing design 

Aesthetics refers to the visual appearance of a product. Although this is not a specific field within human-computer interaction, it can significantly affect how users perceive technology. An aesthetically pleasing product can create a positive impression on users, increase user engagement and improve the perception of the product. This phenomenon is known as the aesthetic-usability effect

Seasoned product designers often consider aesthetics as one of the crucial factors in creating a positive user experience. They aim to create visually appealing interfaces — a design with a nice visual hierarchy of elements, good font pairing, and color selection — because such interfaces are easy on the eyes. 


5. Define usability metrics that guide product development

How do you know whether your design is good for your users? You need to use metrics to measure the performance and effectiveness of your design. The exact set of metrics can vary depending on the nature of your product, but generally, you should track time on task (the time it takes users to complete a specific task), error rate (how many errors users face along the way), and task level satisfaction (how well the product satisfies the task at hand). Once you define a set of metrics, you should use the same set during each usability testing session. Doing that will help you to see how your product design evolves in a dynamic environment. 

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Continuously Improve Your Design

Human-computer interaction is a discipline that makes designers think about creating products that offer a great user experience. It's nearly impossible to release a perfect product right from the first attempt. Most of the time, you need to continuously improve your design until you reach the state where you can tell that your product offers a great user experience. But even after that, you should not stop working on your design. User needs and preferences change over time, so it's essential to adapt your design to changing product design landscape. 

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