What does Human Computer Interaction really mean?

We have a relatively new “virtual” department at Iowa State University (ISU) called Human Computer Interaction (HCI). What I mean by virtual department is, that in order to get a degree in HCI you must co-major in it and first have a home department. Also, most of the HCI faculty also have home departments somewhere else.

According to Wikipedia, HCI is, “is the study of interaction between people (users) and computers. It is an interdisciplinary subject, relating computer science with many other fields of study and research.”

This is similar to how the field was described to me, with concrete examples of how the fields of psychology and sociology have real issues with trying to make usable software for students in their fields. So, I assumed that this was an accurate description of HCI departments across the board. I had no idea that it so much more complex than that. I was first introduced to it by my advisor in the statistics department who is an HCI faculty member.

I was immediately interested in the field because there is a ton of statistics that goes into determining how successful the programs are, as well as the statistics that are incorporated into research in any field. One of the reason I like statistics so much is that it is applicable to any subject. Having unending interests in many different fields this appealed to me greatly. I soon decided that no matter what I got my PhD in, HCI would be part of it.

That was when I started asking around (I had many friends who were computer science majors). I soon found out that depending on who you asked, ISU either had a great or a horrible HCI department. This confused me because I was under the assumption, as I stated before, that the definition of HCI was the same across the board. After that I did a little asking around and searching on the internet and came up with a little more clarifying information.

At ISU we have a world renowned virtual reality lab (VRAC) and that is the driving force behind our HCI department. A

Below are a few descriptions and bits of information on this field that I was able to find from a couple different institutions, with a little help from Google, of course…

Carnegie Mellon has a Human-Computer Interaction Institute and their mission is:
“To create effective, usable, enjoyable experiences with technology through interdisciplinary research in engineering, design, computer science, and the behavioral and social sciences, and to understand the impact of technology on individuals, groups, and organizations.” ( http://www.hcii.cmu.edu/ ) They also have a video at their site that explains their program.

Stanford University has a neat site with many different publications (.pdf files) about new technologies and techniques in the field. (http://hci.stanford.edu/ ) I read two neat articles about prototyping camera-based interaction through examples, and also one discussing gaze-enhanced scrolling techniques. The first articles describes a new software called Eyepatch, described in the article as a tool that, “allows novice programmers to extract useful data from live video and stream that data to other rapid prototyping tools, such as Adobe Flash, d.tools [14], and Microsoft Visual Basic.” The other article investigates ways to scroll by observing the gaze of the user. I found that information fascinating.

The University of Maryland has a HCI Lab (HCIL) and they describe their work, “The HCIL is an interdisciplinary lab comprised of faculty and students from Information Studies, Computer Science, Education, English, Business, and Psychology. Our current work includes new approaches to information visualization, interfaces for digital libraries, multimedia resources for learning communities, zoomable user interfaces (ZUIs), technology design methods with and for children, mobile and pen-based computing and instruments for evaluating user interface technologies.” (http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/about/ )