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I gave a talk last week about Human Computer Interaction (HCI) to postgraduate Service Design and IED students. HCI is such a diverse field of intellectual and academic activity it was a real challenge to give enough background, to illuminate key theoretical principles, and demonstrate the current state of HCI practical work in one hour. How to choose what to include?

The computer in HCI now means any kind of responsive electronic device from phones, laptops and tablets, to smart watches, wearables such as Fitbit or Jawbone, as well as robots, and aeriel drones as well as their associated software. You could say these devices fall into two categories.

1. Commonplace objects augmented with more sophisticated machine intelligence such as the Nest thermostat, Withings scale or Google glasses. They are familiar consumer objects (with all the cultural understandings they carry) that have been enhanced with the addition of advanced computer intelligence. This creates new forms of behaviour, new definitions of our relationship with technology, and new meanings. Should our relationship with them stay the same or does their augmentation demand an associated behavioural transformation from us? Should their designers make the implications of this augmentation explicit or should they depend on a gradual revelation of what they can do? For example, If Nest is worth $3.2 billion what does that imply about the value of the data it can collect about us? If Google Glasses see and record all the people around us, should we develop new ways of looking?

2. Computers in new forms such as flexible screen smart phones, bracelet step counters like Fitbit, and passive health screening devices such as the Scanadu Scout. These objects do not announce their purpose, they are not ‘readable’ in the same way that a pair of glasses are. In Gibson‘s terms they do not display any explicit affordance neither do they indicate any perceived affordance (in Norman‘s terms). While they may feature familiar interface mechanisms such as buttons, switches, and icons these are often in service of old metaphors – hangovers, not from a previous industrial age like the simulated leather of a digital calendar, but from a metaphorical vocabulary of mechanical action on the world. These types of computers need to train us to use them. How should they be held? Which is the correct mode of operation? What design metaphors are appropriate? How do new interfaces scale across different cultures?

HCI as a field of intellectual enquiry and knowledge production rightly places attention onto these questions and is increasingly doing research in the areas where systems design meets people. My own work in this area takes the view that human relationships, human cognitive abilities, and human experience should form the philosophical and methodological background to HCI research.

See the presentation here. HCI 2

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