At ACM Queue, John Canny, the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Distinguished Professor of Engineering at UC Berkeley, writes about the future of human-computer interaction, For many years HCI has been evolutionary, not revolutionary. Is this about to change?. He begins by making a case for the centrality of HCI in product design:
[I[t’s not a good idea to separate “the interface” from the rest of the product, since the customer sees the product as one system. Designing “from the interface in” is the state of the art today. So HCI has expanded to encompass “user-centered design,” which includes everything from needs analysis, concept development, prototyping, and design evolution to support and field evaluation after the product ships. That’s not to say that HCI swallows up all of software engineering. But the methods of user-centered design – contextual inquiry, ethnography, qualitative and quantitative evaluation of user behavior – are quite different from those for the rest of computer engineering. So it’s important to have someone with those skills involved in all phases of a product’s development.
He goes on to suggest that the next leap forward in HCI will involve “context”:
Let’s start with the cellphone. It has a tiny screen with tiny awkward buttons and no mouse. From start to finish, it was designed for speech. The microphone and speaker are small but highly evolved, and the mic placement in its normal position is optimal for speech recognition. We’ll get to speech interfaces shortly. If it’s a smart phone, it probably also has a camera and a Bluetooth radio. It has some kind of position information, ranging from coarse cell tower to highly accurate assisted satellite GPS.
This is all “context” information, in contrast to the “text” you might type on the keyboard or see on the screen. Normally, WIMP interfaces rely entirely on the text you type (let’s include mouse input) to figure out what to do. Context-aware interfaces use everything they can. This is particularly relevant to mobile phones. When you’re using a phone, you’re either in some “place” (caf