Human-Computer Interaction, Research Paper Example
Words: 4370Research Paper
Nowadays computer technologies are becoming more and more popular. It is impossible to imagine the life of a modern man without everyday interaction with a computer; especially it concerns businesspeople, scientists, intellectuals, etc. This list may be continued, because even schoolchildren are actively using computer technologies in the learning process. As computers are becoming more sophisticated, the computer designers get challenged by the task of making them as easy to operate as possible. There are many factors that influence the process of human-computer interaction and each of them should be taken into account by the designer to make it efficient and convenient. Moreover, with the rapid technology development old systems meet the requirements no more, so that the specialists are expected to work out new forms of communications not making it more complicated in dealing with.
Today Human-Computer Interaction is one of the most extensively studied areas at IBM. The aim of study and development is to comprehend the relationships among users’ objectives, their personal capabilities, the social conditions they are working in, and the computerized technology they get in touch with. All this is done to provide an efficient communication between a user and a computer. It should be emphasized that this discipline covers many aspects which in turn concern various fields of science. Among them there are computer science, software engineering, sociology, anthropology, psychology, management science, cognitive science, etc. Moreover, the question of the interactive system design requires that the computer configuration would be aesthetic, behavioral, and value-sensitive which involves much research and development as well. However, peculiarities of people, groups, and organizations the computers are aimed at are not less important, as well as the context they are used in.
Although we have already mentioned the main goal of this discipline, there are several minor goals which contribute to the fulfillment of the main one. Among them there are developing methodologies for designing usable interfaces, evaluating and comparing interfaces, developing new improved interfaces, developing new descriptive models and theories of interaction. Although the theory is extremely important in the process of interaction development, it seems to be of minor importance if compared to the practical issues. It is explained by the fact that even on the stage of preparation one should apply the principle of modeling which has the practical character as well. About mental and conceptual modelling we will talk a little bit later. On the whole, the designer’s work consists in developing new methodologies, experimenting with new hardware devices, prototyping new software systems, exploring new paradigms for interaction, and developing models of interaction.
Communication between users and computers occurs at the user interface, which includes not only software system but also hardware one, from general personal computers to large industrial systems. It is evident that the interaction process influences the efficiency of work greatly, which means that it is extremely important to do one’s best to make it as easy as possible.
Development of the computer science has significantly enhanced the processing power of computers and, at the same time, decreasing their size. This development has contributed greatly to the advances of underlying technology and enabled to create a larger variety of human-computer interactions. For example, the increased processing power, as well as emerging of network connection between computers influenced the process of emerging audio and video in the Internet, which is now viewed as a common thing. Moreover, technological advances provided the opportunity of audio and visual interaction with other people and the computer itself. What should be added is that sophistication of the technologies enabled to combine various types of interaction which resulted in the invention of the elements of virtual reality and improved the process of virtual reality experience.
Advances in human-computer interactions may be determined by both technology and human aspects. The first one requires from a specialist to be knowledgeable about hardware and software elements and tools, while the second one means that it is extremely important to be aware of the natural human laws which rule the process of working with computers, as well as comprehending new working models. Thus the designer’s aim is to create effective human-computer interaction. To add, the designer should take into account cost, benefits and limitations, international standards, personal characteristic of users, etc.
In order to create a practical system the interface must be deliberately designed, appropriate to the users’ goals and simple enough to be understood. In addition, in case there are unfamiliar concepts there, an appropriate background should be provided. Though, on the whole, familiar terms should be applied so that they meet users’ expectations (Hudson, 2004).
Significant in designing interfaces seem the first stage of this process which is called mental and conceptual modelling. They enable to represent real or imaginary situation that afterwards helps to comprehend what components are really useful for this or that type of the interface and which are not. Moreover, modelling contributes to the simplification and innovation of the interface design, determining concepts and terms for the user interface, as well as p providing a basis for object oriented development. It also should be noted that one can use the principle of mental and conceptual models reversely when testing the system or evaluating its effectiveness.
Nowadays there are three commonly used types of interface. They are: the graphical user interface, the voice user interface, and the multi-modal interface.
Graphical user interfaces are the most familiar among computer users. The human-computer interaction is performed here with the help of a window system which is controlled by an operating system control manager. This type of the interface become very convenient, as it enables to separate the sophisticated inner work of the computer system from what the user sees on the display. The modern graphical user interfaces have the following features: visibility of what is being performed by the user, replacement of command languages with comprehensible visible objects, incremental type of action which means that the user is able to watch the result of his or her actions right away, and syntactic correctness which means that the user’s actions are accepted to be legal (Dix et al., 2004). The reliability of the graphical user interface which is manipulated directly for the computer may be proved by the example of documents and folders which the user may see on the display device. It is evident that they are just icons that represent lots of other files located within. The syntactic correctness and reversibility the researches demonstrate in the following way: “With a drag-and-drop style command, it is impossible to make a syntactically incorrect operation. For example, if a user wants to move a file to a different folder, the move command itself is guaranteed to be syntactically correct; and even though the user may make a mistake in placing the file in the wrong place, it is relatively easy to detect and recover from those errors. While the document is being dragged, continual visual feedback is provided to the user, creating the illusion that the user is actually working in the desktop world” (Dix et al., 2004).
Voice user interfaces are mostly employed by business organisations. They are designed to enable users exchange information through direct speech communication. Among the benefits of this type of interface one Cohen, Giangola and Balogh (2004) distinguish cheapness and effectiveness. Thus, speech system utilization saves significant sums of money by lowering the amount of telephone calls, as well as reducing toll call charges as a result of the fact that the duration of calls becomes shorter. Nowadays it is robust enough to point it out as an adequate means of communication, though it still needs some modifications concerning the design to provide a more convenient and enjoyable utilization. As well as graphical user interface, voice user interfaces system should not make its user focus on the technical process of getting the message across – it should be performed behind the interface. So, to meet the expectations of the user in this area the designers are meant to improve the way of handling the system, rather than its inner construction. According to Cohen, Giangola and Balogh (2004), the voice user interface consists of three main elements: prompts –recorded or synthesised speech which is playing in the process of communication, grammars – the possible responses among which the user is to choose the one required, and dialogue logic – the actions the systems takes according to the user’s response. Moreover, the interfaces of this type give an opportunity to the user to listen to nonverbal audio, for instance, background music which enables to create an atmosphere specific for particular actions or applications which enables the user to “feel” what he or she is doing and in such a way enhances the effectiveness of human-computer interaction.
In addition, audio systems of communication enable those using them to spare time, as they do not take much effort handling them. Furthermore, with simplification of their usage they become all-pervasive which means they may be employed anywhere and anytime. So, their mobility is extremely beneficial for business organizations.
The next type of interface – multi-modal interface – is a relatively new area of research that combines several methods of user’s interaction with a system. Developing it the researchers mean to combine the above mentioned types and in such a way eliminate the difficulties one faces while working with purely auditory and purely visual interfaces. Thus multi-modal interface are intended to use various communication tools to provide the interaction process resembling interpersonal communication. Here we can trace the importance of psychological knowledge in the process of human-computer interaction system development. For example, Marriott and Beard (2004) hold up as a model Gestalt psychological theory which is used to describe the relationship where the whole is not similar to the sum of its parts. This theory was applied to the area of human-computer interaction, “where the interface reacts to and perceives the desires of the user via the user’s emotions and gestures” (Marriott & Beard, 2004). This concept is called the Gestalt User Interface and makes the procedure of communication with equipment more personalized. The systems like this one may be effectively used in business management, entertainment, education, productivity, and safety. For example, if a program could recognise the user’s emotions according to his or her facial expression or speech intonation, the device can change its behaviour to satisfy the user’s needs. Moreover, the system may be intended to start only if it is switched on by some particular users but not others. In this case it again uses its ability to recognize people’s features. Nowadays the like technology finds application in homeland security reinforcement. For instance, facial recognition or image referencing may serve as a means of people and transport identification after they were snapshot in airports, near power stations, politically important memorials, etc.
There are many other types of interface which today are being actively developed and internally combined. Among them the widely-known World Wide Web is worth being mentioned. It represents a shining example of successful combination of various elements, such as hypertext, file systems, programming languages, etc. However, there were some inventions here, such as the browser and HTML, which provided its users with an easy access to information.
To conclude this part of the work I would like to emphasize that understanding the nature of different interface configurations, including their benefits and drawbacks, is necessary in order to design new effective systems which would comprise the advantages of all the previous ones.
It goes without saying that systems used in human-computer interaction should be accessible to as many users as possible, which means that they should be maximally universal and easy to use. Arditi (1999) offered his opinion on what text would be most legible and easy to perceive. They state that according to the character shape, text format and layout the text may become comprehensible or, on the contrary, or absolutely unreadable. The also give particular recommendations on what type of the text would be the best choice. Thus, as for the font family, although there is little difference between Arial and Verdana, the latter is considered to be more open (there is more white space within characters) and, consequently, more preferable. To add, Arditi (1999) states that cursive fonts would be better avoid as it can detract from an appropriate understanding. Then, spacing between lines should not exceed 25-30% of the point size and, if it appears possible, no background patterns should be applied and left justification is considered the most appropriate. Finally, differences in perception of the color depth condition particular rules of color application in the text. So, Marriott and Beard (2004) write that for easy comprehension colors should appear in the following order, nearest to furthest: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. Today these simple rules seem to be well-known by the majority of computer users, say nothing of specialists who are to design interfaces. However, one should know that it took them much time and effort to work out these rules in the beginning of the human-computer interaction era. Since that time many researches and experiments have been carried out to make sure these are the very standards for the efficient device utilization. Moreover, the process of development has not ceased yet and the drastic changes are luckily to take place in the near future.
I have already mentioned in this work that the user interface should be possibly as universal as possible. Although much is done to reach this goal, the differences are determined by many factors, such as the purpose of use, computing environment, personal characteristics of users, etc. However, what we would like to name specifically is the cultural environment which greatly influences the peculiarities of the user interface and the interaction on the whole.
Nowadays the world society is striving for globalization which in terms of computer technology is represented by the World Wide Web. However, the availability of the global network does not mean that cultural differences are not taken into account. It is quite understood that each country participating in this world community is allowed to use the tools which are characteristic of them only. But when it concerns their wish to be understood by other nations, there may appear difficulties in understanding and proper interpretation. This issue was thoroughly developed and resulted in the definition of the Universal Character Set (UCS), which is defined by both the Unicode standard and ISO/IEC 10646. Because of the fact that both are identical, Unicode is often used to refer to the UCS (Arditi, 1999). Although this innovation contributed much to the enhancement of interaction effectiveness, one should still be aware of cultural differences that determine that determine the process of intercultural communication. Even such, at first sight, unimportant things as textual layout, images, colour may tell a lot about the message meant to be delivered.
Badre (2002) studied more than 10,000 websites and users, and discovered some cultural elements that affected the popularity of websites intended to be used internationally. For example, Americans prefer to use alphanumeric icons. Chinese, on the contrary, are more successful when dealing with images, so they are mostly in for pictorial icons. English, French and Spanish users are considered to be fond of graphics, while Germans do not like graphics, they do not like colourful web pages as well. In contrast, Chinese who have already been said to prefer the language of images are more effective when working with colourful web pages. From the psychological point of view it looks logical, as the personal qualities characteristic of different nations are vividly reflected in the above mentioned statements.
Nevertheless, to overcome the problem of misunderstanding between cultures and, especially, technical troubles concerning differences in equipment standards, researches have always made attempts to universalize the human-computer interaction procedure. They suggest that there should be global interface which would enable the representatives of all nations feel comfortable when utilizing the system. Badre (2002) states that there are three areas to be considered to make user interface as universal as possible. According to his study, first, a computer should be capable of the user’s native language, as well as time and currency. Second, a computer system should aim at the user’s cultural characteristics, as well as the peculiarities of national communication and business. Finally, the interface should be translated into the language the user requires, so that it is easy to read and understand. Thus, one should understand that these rules are intended to be able to convey the information to various nations without any distraction and misunderstanding. Furthermore, it is vital to avoid any confusing or offensive actions resulting from poor technology development and, therefore, inability to provide a decent sour?e of information exchange.
In the area of human-computer interaction there is a notion – usability. Usability is an indispensable aspect of user interface system acceptability. Marriott and Beard (2004) describe it as, “a broad concept that refers to how easy it is for users to learn a system, how efficiently they can use it once they have learned to use it, and how pleasant it is to use”. Marriott and Beard (2004) pointed out five attributes that contribute to usability:
- Learnability. The user should be able to start performing the tasks with the system without any delay which means that the system is easy to comprehend and to deal with for those it is aimed at.
- Efficiency. In case the user has learned to handle the system, it will be working productively which means that the system is developed enough to meet the requirements it was designed for.
- Memorability. The user should be able to return to the system after some time, without having to repeat what has already been done which means that the system is capable of keeping what have been performed in it irrespective of when it was used last time.
- Errors. Errors should not occur during the system utilization. Even if they do, they should be easy to recover. Anyway there should be no breakdown which would be impossible to retrieve.
- Satisfaction. The system should be pleasant to use. Here not only simplicity and effectiveness are meant, but also the fact the appearance and trifle peculiarities of usage should meet the expectations of the user.
A few words should be said about the notion of usability engineering. Traditional software engineering methodologies focus on modelling the functional requirements of a system. User-centred design has been used to describe a methodology that supplements the software design process to better suit the design of interactive systems (Dix et al., 2004). One approach to user-centred design has been to introduce explicit usability engineering goals into the design process, with an emphasis on knowing exactly what criteria will be used to judge the success of a product in terms of its usability (Dix et al., 2004).
Hudson (2004) states that “the whole point of interactive products is to serve the users, and as far as the users are concerned, the user interface is the product”.
Usability engineering includes application of usability principles as part of the software engineering lifecycle. However, one should also be able to examine the user interface and perform experiments over it. Most quantitative analytical techniques that have been developed to specifically address usability centre on calculating the times spent on specific tasks (Dix et al., 2004). However, the majority of user interface testing is done through qualitative analysis. Some of these techniques are listed below.
In the following part of our research I would like to view the problem of user interface evaluation. To be sure the system works the way it is expected to one should be able to see its benefits and drawbacks, as well as examine, if its operation meets the goals and contributes to the effective work of the user. So, it becomes evident that the evaluation process is based upon decision if the system accomplishes the necessary tasks or not.
First of all, each type of interactive technology addresses particular audience who is in turn to perform some set of tasks in particular working environment. So, it is vital to decide if the interface system corresponds to the situation, the aim of the work and the targeted audience. The specific feature of computer system is that the targeted audience may be programmers themselves for whom the tool are developed, so that in future they work out technologies for laymen. This aspect should be taken into consideration when evaluating the system, because the interface which appears quite usable for specialists may be absolutely unsuitable for nonexperts who are used to simplified forms of interface.
Another aspect of evaluating is importance of the interface. Significant is that it is fully based on the previous one. To decide if the system is important or not one should take three factors – the situation, the aim of the work and the targeted audience – and answer the following questions:
- How often do the target users find themselves in the situations which require the utilization of the given system?
- How often do the targeted users in these situations have to perform tasks which require the given system?
- What changes can the evaluated technology make in the situation which initially required its usage? Will these changes improve the conditions?
Speaking of the last question one should keep in mind that if while evaluating the changes performed by the system usage one does not watch them at once and has to carry out a thorough analysis, the technology is considered not important enough to be put into active production.
Then, one should point out that the usability of user interface system may be defined according to its ability to solve problems that could not be solved by any previous types of technology. Again, if it is obvious and does not require any special research one can be sure that the benefit of ability to solve problems which could not be solved before overweighs all other drawbacks. For example, the World Wide Web managed to solve the problem of non-programmers inability to interconnect several information resources.
Third, the user interface system is evaluated according to its generality, which means that many people have to solve problems which cannot be dealt with by means of existing tools. However, generality of the technology is estimated not only by the quantity of people requiring the problem solution, but also by the variety of contexts for which the system is suitable. Thus, the greater the diversity and the larger the number of solutions the interface system can demonstrate, the stronger is its generality.
In addition, an effective user interface system should be flexible that is to be ready for rapid design changes according to the changing situation and the user’s needs. This important feature enables to find better solutions or modify them in an appropriate way. Moreover, it provides the user with the opportunity to change the system appearance in accordance with personal tastes and preferences of users.
The next important criterion is expressive leverage, which determines the designer’s ability to accomplish more by expressing less. It can be achieved, first, by reducing repetitive choices by means of reuse and, second, by ensuring the technology development. Each element in a design should be afforded maximum leverage through a detailed understanding of both the communication problem and the available design elements. Although maximum leverage is not desirable in every design, when it can be used to reduce the complexity of an interface, it enhances both the usability and the aesthetics of a product.
Many user interface systems are claimed highly effective due to their ability to support combinations of various basic building elements. Important here is the question if the elements of the system are easy to combine or not. The fact that building components can connect is not considered sufficient. It is vital that the interconnection should be straightforward and simple. Again, the World Wide Web could be a good example here.
On the whole, if consider the effectiveness of the World Wide Web from the point of view of all the above mentioned criteria, it gets apparent why this system became so popular, as, if thoroughly estimated, it appears to exactly what we need. Moreover, the process of world globalization could not but condition the appearance of the concept like this.
To conclude this part of the paper, I would like to pay special attention to the fact that with rapid development of computer technologies the methods of their estimation should also become more sophisticated, simply because complex interface systems do not yield to simple controlled examination. Consequently, new standards of evaluation and estimation appear which makes the procedure not only more intricate, but also diverse. This it turn enables to choose best ways of evaluation for particular systems resulting in evaluation accuracy and effectiveness.
Thus our research was devoted to the most important aspect of computer technologies – human-computer interaction. As it provides the direct connection between the user and the computer, it determines the effectiveness of operations performed, as well as influences greatly the future of computer development. In the beginning of our work we introduced the notion of human-computer interaction and defined its main goals. Then, we decided that to reach these goals the designers should work out a methodology which would enable to meet the user’s requirements and expectations. Afterwards, we named the benefits and drawbacks of interface systems that are especially popular nowadays, as well as defined for what purpose each of them is better to be used. To add, it seems extremely important to be knowledgeable if the system you are using is effective enough to be developed further in the chosen direction. For this purpose we named the criteria for system being usable and effective and demonstrated the way it may be examined on the basis of those criteria.
Arditi, A. (1999). Making text legible: designing for people with partial sight. New York: Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute, Lighthouse International.
Badre, A. N. (2002). Shaping Web Usability: Interaction Design in Context. Boston: Pearson Education.
Dix, A., Finlay, J., Abowd, G. D. & Beale, R. (2004). Human-Computer Interaction. London: Addison-Wesley Pearson Education.
Cohen, M. H., Giangola, J. P. & Balogh, J. (2004). Voice User Interface Design. Boston: Addison-Wesley.
Hudson, W. (2004). Mental Models, Metaphor, and Design. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from http://www.syntagm.co.uk/design/
Marriott, A. & Beard, S. (2004). GUI: Specifying Complete User Interaction’, in H. Prendinger & M. Ishizuka, (eds.). Life-Like Characters. Tools, Affective Functions and Applications. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Time is precious
don’t waste it!