The purpose of the report will be to look at human computer interactions in web based systems. The report will contain a definition of human computer interactions and web based systems as well as the various types of human computer interaction systems. The report will also focus on the background of the concept as well as provide information on the history of human computer interactions focusing on when this concept emerged and when these systems were developed. The report will also look at the various research writings and literature that are available to explain the concept of human computer interactions. Methodology will also be used to determine what techniques have been used to collect the information used in the research. The scope of research in the report will focus on the amount of research findings and discussions that will provide new information on the topic. The report will also focus on recommendations on human computer interaction and web based systems.
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The advancements in technology and technological innovations have made it possible for the gap that exists between the human and user interface to be bridged. A user interface is described as the system that enables users or computer operators to have an interaction with a computer or any computerized machine. The components that make up a user interface include the hardware components which are mostly physical and software programs that are used to run the hardware. User interfaces or UIs provide machine users with the option of inputting information into the computer systems and providing output information for the input request by the user. The current information systems categorize the human-computer interaction to take place through the use of the user interface.
The purpose of the user interface is to foster an interaction between the user and the machine that will result in effective operations and carrying out of computerized activities. The interaction also ensures that there is feedback and communication in what the user wants to be performed by the machine which will also aide in decision making. User interfaces are also designed to make the use of the machine to be an enjoyable and efficient experience. With the continued improvements on technology taking place everyday, the user interface has faced modifications that have seen the system become more graphical and user friendly in nature.
The personalization of computer systems with particular focus on the user interfaces has been viewed to provide each individual user with the particular set of information that they need. The personalization of web services has been seen to improve the interaction that the user will have with the information presented by the machine. The growing use of the Internet as a means of sharing and distributing information has initiated the growth of instruction oriented websites or web pages that offer instructions in the form of supplemental materials. The Internet incorporates the use of hypertext or hypermedia programs in the form of link nodes that provide accessibility to various information sites.
The information contained in the hypertext is usually in a non-linear and an unstructured form, with the main method of data manipulation being scrolling and clicking. The amount of data contained in a web page makes it difficult for the user to view all the information in one sitting when compared to using a textbook. This creates a loss of interaction effectiveness between the user and the computer; such a challenge presents a problem to the designers of software programs who find it difficult bridging the gap of effectiveness in the user interface (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
Hypertext functionality provides approaches for finding information over the Internet. The most common approach is typing the URL link of the information that one is interested in within the browser location after which the page shows the information requested by the user. The user mostly has to describe the information they are looking for by keying in a search word or letter. This however presents a problem when the results from the web page display information that the user was not looking for or the requested information is too short and unclear. Another problem presents itself when the webpage provides interesting information making it difficult for the user to navigate through the page and find the most useful piece of data (De Bra et al, 2004).
Background and History of Human Computer Interactions Web Based Systems
The history of HCI technology has been characterized by a lot of research work and technological improvements of the concept. Research has been conducted on how to improve human computer interactions through the improvement of the user interfaces. The continuous development of computers and the technological improvement of computer graphics led to the creation of human computer interaction tools and approaches. The HCI approaches were developed to bridge the gap that existed between the human user and the computer’s interface (Kumar, 2005).
The concept of human computer interaction has its background in industrial engineering which emerged during the industrialization period in the early 19th century. Industrial engineering arose out of the need to improve industrial productivity by focusing on techniques that would ensure production has been performed in an effective and efficient way. Industrial engineering saw the development of specialized tools that would be used to increase productivity in industrial factories as well as in work stations. These specialized tools included computers that would be used to reduce the amount of work that was performed in administration offices while at the same time increase the efficiency of the office workers (Kumar, 2005).
The continued increase of industrialization around the world increased industrial engineering activities which saw the mass production of personal computers that would be used in workstations and also at home. The mass production of personal computers was directly associated to the quality of user interfaces. Such associations saw the formulation of architecture that would be used to create standardized human computer interfaces. These architectures included the mouse, Windows operating systems and user interface management systems (Kumar, 2005).
The first research work and development of user interfaces began with the direct manipulation of graphical objects in the 1960s. Direct manipulation involved moving, selecting or manipulating the visible objects in the computer screen by using a pointing device. The first pointing device to be developed was the SketchPad which was used to manipulate objects by grabbing, moving and changing their size through the use of light pen. Xerox, Macintosh and Apple Lisa were one of the first companies in the world to make use of direct manipulation in the 1980s. The mouse was the next HCI component to be developed in the Stanford Research Laboratory in 1965. The mouse was meant to be a replacement to the SketchPad or light pens that were in use before. The mouse was made into a practical input device in 1970. Commercial developments of the mouse were made in 1981 with Xerox being the first company to use the mouse (Myers, 1998)
Text editing was a HCI concept and development that was introduced in 1962. Text editing was meant to help the user in their text editing activities such as cutting, copying, pasting, moving and deleting. Hypertext was also introduced during the 1960s to improve the level of human computer interactions between users and web programs. Research work into gesture recognition began in 1965 with the full commercialization of this feature of HCI being used in 1977. Virtual reality was meant to incorporate aspects such as sound and virtual objects into the human computer interaction system (Myers, 1998).
The history of web based systems was more recent than human computer interactions. Web based systems have a background in web design which mostly focuses on providing a communication link between the user and the machine. The development and design of graphical user interfaces derives most of the technical information from web design as well as web systems. Web designs provide the appropriate techniques that will be used to improve the appearance of the computer interface improving the HCI aspect.
The design of web based systems mostly focuses on the human user’s physical and psychological abilities when computing. These abilities are usually addressed when developing the HCI. The user’s cognitive abilities are usually captured by the animations and the menu included in the computer interface (Macdonald, 2003). Web programs contain features that allow the user to interact with the website but the computer hardware itself lacks the proper interaction features that will be used to meet the user’s needs (Milewski, 2004).
Research Findings and Discussions
The study of how people design, implement and use the user interactive component of the computer systems as well as assess the impact of this interaction to the individual user is known as the human computer interaction (HCI). This field of technology is viewed to have a basis from computer science, web design, and behavioral science. The interaction that occurs between users and computers is usually performed in the user interface. The interface is made up of both software and hardware components of a computer (Wickens et al, 2004). The tools that are used in fostering user and computer interactions include mouse, keyboards, joysticks, sensor pads and track pads. These devices allow the user to input information into the machine thereby aiding the user interaction process. The interaction devices that are used to provide feedback to the user include the visual displays, auditory cues, voice prompts and graphical buttons (Jacko & Sears, 2003).
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The study of human computer interactions draws from the supporting knowledge that exists on computers and human cognitive processes. The information that exists on computers includes the techniques and approaches that are used in creating computer graphics, industrial engineering, operating systems and programs. The knowledge that is used in understanding the human aspect in human computer interactions mostly depends on cognitive psychology, social and behavioral science, communication aspects, graphic and web design and other human factors that come into play when using a computer.
The multidisciplinary nature of the HCI has seen various contributions and research work being included into the theoretical work that exists about the concept. Researchers, computer engineers and program developers have focused on human machine interactions when developing computer programs and computer upgrades. This focus on interaction is important as it ensures that technical problems do not arise during the human computer interaction (Wickens et al, 2004).
The main aim of studying human computer interactions is to develop technological innovations that will be more user friendly and acceptable. The field of HCI is multidisciplinary in nature since there is no one theory that can be used to explain the relationship between the user and the machine. There are however traditional cognitive psychological studies based on human cognition that view the user as the major dominant player in the human computer interaction process. According to these psychological studies, humans process information based on their sensory abilities and the type of knowledge they posses (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
The basic goal of the HCI field is to improve the usability of the computer’s interface to meet the user’s needs. To meet these goals and objectives, the field of human computer interaction has concerned itself with methodologies and processes that will be used in developing user interfaces as well as approaches that will be used in implementing these user interfaces. HCI has also concerned itself with the techniques that will be used in evaluating the developed interfaces and identifying whether any improvements are necessary. The long term goal of HCI is to design user interface systems that will minimize the barrier’s that exist between the user’s cognitive abilities and the computer’s understanding of the human’s cognitive abilities (Bastide et al, 2005).
Research into the field of human computer interactions has been successful in the recent past and most of the developments that have emerged as a result of the research work have contributed in the improvement of computing. An example is the creation of the graphical user interface by Microsoft which was incorporated in the Windows 95 version. The creation of this interface was based on research conducted by Xerox PARC, Macintosh and early research work conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Stanford Research Laboratory which is now known as the Stanford Research Institute. Generally without any research work, the field of HCI would not have been able to advance to the current state (Myers, 1998).
The human computer interaction concept differs from human factors because it focuses more on how humans interact with computers. The computer and human knowledge fields that overlap with HCI include personal information management (PIM), computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) and human interaction management (HIM). Personal information management studies the interaction of human users with computers in a larger informational setting by focusing on the many forms of information that are computer based. Computer supported cooperative work involves analyzing the computing systems that are used to support human computer interactions within a network of people in an organizational or community setting. Human interaction management involves extending the scope of CSCW to cover an organizational level (Wickens et al, 2004).
The two principles that underlie human computer interactions are vision and hearing. Vision involves the information the machine user receives through their eyes. This information is in the form of text and computer images. The hearing principle involves the information that the user receives through their ears. Computers incorporate audio software programs which relay information through, music or speech programs that have been incorporated into the computer’s hardware.
These principles are important in human computer interactions as they allow for the user to understand the various functions of the computer. The various technological innovations that have taken place over the years have seen the adoption of virtual reality which enables other modalities such as sense and touch to be incorporated into the user interface. Such modalities form the basis for the interaction aspect of HCI. Interaction accompanies the user’s commands as they are being performed by the computer (Jacko & Sears, 2003).
Designers of web systems seek to ensure that users can be able to interact with the web programs and with technology in general in an efficient and effective way. The design of the web program will therefore be based on the level of competency the user has with web programs. Human computer interaction studies and research are conducted to ensure that the interaction between the human user and the computer has been addressed in the design of the user interface. The analysis is therefore seen as an important factor in developing a system that will meet the user’s needs and capability of handling web based programs. If the designer or HCI professional has information about users who prefer to use positive polarities in their reading, they can be able to design high resolution screens (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
In developing human computer interfaces, the main aspect that is considered is the interface usability which is seen to be an important aspect of the HCI process. Interface usability addresses specific issues that influence the users of computers and the computer itself. To add on this, usability deals with the aspect of human performance while the user is interacting with the computer. Usability involves the ease of using the computer system, the satisfaction that the user derives from using the system and the efficiency of using the system which should be free from any errors and mistakes (Staggers & Miller, 2001). Usability engineering strategies provide the basic evaluation criteria that will be used in assessing whether the program design has met the requirements of usability.
Usability engineering involves the use of usability principles such as the efficiency of the program, the ease of learning the program, satisfaction with the application, the amount of errors and the memorability of the web program to the user in developing effective interaction systems (Raymond, 2004). The architects of software programs have mastered techniques that will enable them to deal with the attributes related to quality programs such as performance, reliability, relevance and sustainability. The aspect of usability has however presented a challenge for these designers as it is mostly focused on presenting information which has made it hard to separate usability from the user interface. Usability has been viewed as a problem in the modification of the web based programs (Bastide, et al, 2005).
Another aspect that is important in developing HCI systems is adaptivity where the interface is designed to adapt itself according the users changing needs. These needs are usually identified by information that has been collected on the user through design research approaches and analysis techniques. Monitoring techniques are usually used to maintain interactive sessions which lead to adaptations while the user is interacting with the computer system. Adaptivity has been viewed as an important tool in providing direct accessibility to the user during the HCI process. It requires for the establishment of the interaction between the user and the computer to already be in existence (Stephanidis et al, 1998).
Types of Human Computer Interaction Approaches or User Interfaces
There are three commonly used user interfaces in web based programs and systems which are the graphical user interfaces, voice user interfaces, and the multi modal interfaces. Graphical user interfaces are the most commonly used human computer interaction techniques because they make the computing of information into the computer easier.
Graphical user interfaces (GUI) separate the logical threads that are used by the user in input functions by displaying the information is a visual format through a window system that contains windows, icons and menus. Graphical interfaces are the most preferable HCI approaches because they ensure the user has visibility to the objects of interest, they enable the user to directly manipulate complex command languages that will be used to decipher the object of interest, graphical user interfaces provide the user with rapid feedback once they key in their requests and they allow for the reversibility of actions without any drastic consequences (Dix et al, 2004).
Voice user interfaces (VUI) encompass the use of speech technology that is mostly important for challenged people who want to access web based systems. VUIs were introduced into the user interface market to meet the dissatisfaction that customer’s had with the touchtone telephony concept. The VUI also arose from a need to have advances in speech technology that would see speech systems being more reliable and effective in speech technology delivery than they originally were (Cohen et al, 2004).
A VUI is described as what the user interacts with when using a web program that incorporates an audio application. The auditory interfaces, otherwise known as VUIs, provide a user interface with the human in the form of sound. The input information that is used by the user is speech and the output of the requested information is in the form of sound. The designers of voice user interfaces have to take into consideration the underlying assumptions and a convention of basic human conversation when designing the software for these interfaces (Cohen et al, 2004).
The components that make up the voice user interface include voice prompts that synthesize sounds, dialogue logic and grammar which is the response to the voice prompts. The VUIs provide the user with an opportunity to use nonverbal audio functions as well as supplying information that will facilitate the interaction of the user with the application program or software. Voice systems are seen to be effective in that they draw on the users language skills by simplifying the input sequences to a more understandable concept (Cohen et al, 2004).
The multi modal user interface relies on multiple communication channels that are used to during the human computer interaction process. The communication channels include devices such as keyboards, mouse, sensory feedback and the visual display. For multi modal interfaces to function effectively, they have to involve the use of multiple communication channels that have both the input and output functions. The multi modal user interfaces were basically developed to deal with problems that were associated with the graphic user interfaces and the visual interfaces. The interfaces were developed to provide a more immersive environment for the interaction that takes place between the human and the computerized machine (Dix et al, 2004).
Methodology and Scope of the Research
There are a number of methodologies that have been used in human computer interactions and in developing interaction design. These methodologies have their foundations from early designs that viewed human cognitive processes as predictable and quantifiable. These characteristics saw computer engineers and interface developers focusing on cognitive psychology and behavioral science when designing user interfaces. The current models have focused on constant feedback that exists between computer users and designers (Sharp et al, 2007).
The design methodologies that are used in HCI include design research, research analysis and concept generation, prototyping and usability testing, and system testing. Design research involves using techniques such as interviews, observations or questionnaires to gather the existing information on HCI. The designers of user interfaces investigate users so as to learn more about their interactions with the computers and how this interaction can be improved (Sharp et al, 2007). For the purposes of this report, the design research that will be used will be secondary data collected from academic books, publications, journals and web articles that contain information on human computer interaction and web based systems.
Research analysis and concept generation focuses on the design research collected from the observations, interviews or questionnaires. The design research is usually used to create concepts that will be used in software and hardware development. Research analysis of the HCI process involves the refinement of the design research to suit the design needs of the interface. Research design analysis is usually conducted by brainstorming and discussion to come up with appropriate research information that will be used in developing the user interface.
Once the design research has been analyzed the next stage will involve concept generation where the most suitable analysis is chosen for developing the user interface. Prototyping and usability design methodologies are used to test the aspect of the concepts that have been generated. Prototypes are used to determine whether the user interfaces have met the requirements of the human users as well as the collected design information. Prototype testing is also performed to determine whether the user interface will be usable. System testing is performed once the system has been completed and it is used for identifying any errors that might occur in the interface (Sharp et al, 2007).
The scope of research in this report has focused on the human computer interactions in web based systems. The theory and fields of study that underlie HCI have been examined as well as the types of HCI that are in use for web based systems. HCI studies and research work that has been conducted to create a better understanding of the cognitive behavior of human users and the impact of this behavior on the computer’s operations. The research findings and discussion have shown that HCI is mostly concerned with the individual user as well as a larger context of computer users. Research findings have also shown that HCI research work has mostly focused on improving the existing versions of user interfaces to a more virtual reality status.
To improve existing human computer interactions, continuous research work needs to be conducted to develop newer and better user interfaces that are in line with current technological innovations. User modeling concepts should also be used to improve the human machine interaction by offering solutions to the problem of searching for relevant information. User modeling involves gathering information about the user from the search information they have keyed in that will be used to change the content of the webpage and the links that display results of the user’s request. User modeling is meant to capture the thinking process and knowledge of the machine user that will be integrated into the URL links so that the users search request can be determined and processed.
Adaptive hypermedia can also be used to improve the human computer interaction by providing web personalization services for every user of the webpage. Personalization has taken the form of registering user information with particular websites by providing information about the user’s interests and opinions. Once the user registers, they can be able to personalize the webpage and the information contained in the website to suite their personal needs. The website in turn monitors the user’s patterns and behavior which are used to develop a user model that represents the user’s interests.
The field of human computer interaction is no doubt a complex one but vital in bridging the gap between the user and the computer. There is a growing emphasis on designing interfaces that will meet the needs, program abilities and skills of the user as well as provide a personalized experience when using web based programs and applications. There is a need for designers and architects of web based applications to view interactive systems as important in ensuring the success of the program. This can be accomplished by ensuring there is compatibility between the user interface design and the skills, knowledge and characteristics of the user by analyzing their cognitive processes; this will ensure the human computer interaction is effective and efficient.
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