3 Reasons Why Businesses Are Embracing HCI
Human-Computer Interaction, commonly known as HCI, refers to focus on the interfaces between devices and humans. Ease of use, attractive design are among the criteria that manufacturers need to consider when developing products.
HCI has been around since the early 1980s, mainly looking at cognitive sciences and human factor engineering. Over the succeeding years, it has been taken up by many major manufacturers, especially those of computer hardware, software and smart devices. The need was driven by the, let’s put it frankly, the arcane and difficult user interfaces to early personal computers. The C:\ prompt blinking on an otherwise blank screen was not very user-friendly.
Non-IT professionals were unwilling to embrace that environment, and it was only when Microsoft introduced Windows that there was a significant uptake in personal computing among the general public.
Fortunately, at the same time, cognitive sciences had begun to emerge as an area of serious scientific research. It incorporates the philosophy of the mind, cognitive psychology, linguistics and later AI. Over time it has expanded to include other areas of study, for example, the environment. Simply put, it sets out to find out how and what we find attractive and easy to use and how it can be incorporated into a product.
From that research came HCI.
Why IS HCI so very important? It is generally accepted that users will click away from a website, or choose not to buy a particular product based on their view of its ease of use or if they simply don’t like the look of it. HCI has become an integral part of the design process whether it is a website, software application or new physical product.
While many people think that HCI is only relevant to the ICT industry, that is not true. For sure, ICT has adopted HCI in a big way. For example, Microsoft has a dedicated HCI research unit with over 90 staff working on a wide range of hardware and software projects. HCI is relevant to all industries that design and manufacture products for sale.
How can HCI help general business? Here are three potential areas:
Corporate Organisation and Strategy
Most companies have a corporate strategy setting out how they plan to develop existing products and introduce new ones. HCI can assist with this process by researching whether proposed design criteria meet will create a product that customers will find pleasing.
However, adoption of HCI principles means changes in a corporate organisation. HCI can have an impact on the basic management areas, including planning, organising, leading and control. It, therefore, follows that HCI requires redefining business processes. This, in turn, leads to creating and suggesting new markets and creating new products and services. It will also improve productivity due to ICT having a better understanding of application systems (interface design) and how HCI influences corporate strategies.
This provides a business with the opportunity to relook at its basic processes and weed out some of the processes that are no longer appropriate or necessary and streamline existing ones. In short, Business Process Re-Engineering (“BPR”).
For example, in one organisation they had daily progress updates in the IT department, supplemented by a formal update on Friday. The BPR pro0cess showed that the Friday update was unnecessary, merely duplicating the daily updates, and it was discarded, much to everyone’s pleasure.
Specific areas within corporate culture and change include:
- Organisation culture change: The introduction of HCI activities into an organisation can be used to drive a change in culture within an organisation. The interaction and involvement of people as HCI is introduced gradually leads to a change in ways of doing things.
- Publicity: Publicising that the company has adopted HCI principles will deliver good publicity for an organisation through the media.
- Customer interaction and involvement – HCI will deliver an improved interface with customers. This, in turn, will lead to a better public image and is more likely to generate a positive public profile.
- Goals: HCI can be used to align departmental goals with corporate goals.
Using cognitive design principles can quickly identify areas of concern in the design process and suggest improvements, leading to higher quality, innovative and better designs.
This will generate increased customer acceptance and satisfaction.
The design and development teams will also benefit. Seeing general acceptance of their design will generate improved morale and an understanding that they can and do develop good products.
User Satisfaction Leading to Increased Sales
It seems to be that today, potential purchasers, particularly on-line purchasers use online reviews and blog entries as the basis for their purchasing decisions. They will often consult colleagues, friends and other online contacts to confirm their decision.
Having positive reviews is, therefore, an essential part of the sales process, and HCI can go a long way to making sure that a physical device is ergonomically satisfactory, and if software, that the user interface is easy to use and pleasing to the eye.
That HCI will benefit a business in a no-brainer. Better products increased internal and external acceptance, an improved company profile is only the first of many benefits to be gained from the introduction of an HCI culture in an organisation. However, having said that, adoption of HCI is a process, not an event which will need the whole-hearted support of senior management to be a success.