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Whatever Happened to HCI?

By Pauline Yates | Senior Consultant

INSIGHTS // Articles

31 Oct 2019


INSIGHTS // Articles


By Pauline Yates

31 Oct 2019

Over 20 years ago, I was sitting in a small lecture hall with maybe 100 seats at best. On the screen in the front was a PowerPoint presentation entitled, “Introduction to your module: Human Computer Interaction (HCI)”. This presentation would have a profound effect on how I viewed the tech industry, and may possibly be the reason why I ended up in the test arena.

Quite simply, HCI encouraged a bunch of tech geeks to understand and design for all end users by not only understanding the “how” but the “why” of people interacting with computers. We were taught to take into account various disabilities and limitations, as well as emotional, cognitive, environmental, memory, recall, psychological, and sensory preferences.

Image: Court house building entrance. Title: Accessibility: A Legal Change Coming?

Our HCI module was as much psychology as it was computing. Our first practical assignment was to build a webpage for a charity supporting the sighted disability. Many failed because they had only considered partially sighted users, completely dismissing non-sighted users, and not even realising colour-blindness was a sight limitation.

The use of the term HCI has fallen out of fashion and has been replaced by user experience (UX) in recent years. While UX is a valid approach, especially when looking to enhance code, most of the time it completely ignores accessibility. This is because the question often asked is, “how can we improve the experience for the end user?” rather than, “who is using this, and what are the issues likely to be?

Even the most tech savvy of us can struggle with interacting with our technology on any given day. Consider the time when:

  • We’re tired, so our ability to remember and recall is limited.
  • We’re hot/hungry, so our focus is lacking.
  • It’s the first time we have interacted with a particular piece of technology, so we are constrained by our ability to process this new experience.
  • Our mind is elsewhere. I.e., on our child awaiting their results, ill/elderly relative who is struggling, home or financial pressures, etc.
  • The interface is pretty but not intuitive, so we’re frustrated.

Today, HCI has all but disappeared as a stand-alone module. Most universities now teach it as a single lecture as part of another module, and it has shown in recent years.

This is why the shift in focus to accessibility is so relevant. The user experience is still a part of the focus, but without understanding the human factor, digital interactions will only work for a “text-book” user and continue to frustrate and alienate humans.

For those of us old enough to have studied HCI as a stand-alone module, it may be time to dust off those old text books. For those who were not so fortunate, it may be time for a crash course using an array of excellent text books on the subject.

Between providing accessibility to your current audience and thinking about your future one, delivering on the promise of inclusivity should be a priority now. Talk to us today to find out how we can help you navigate the challenges of accessibility and better service your users’ needs.

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