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authors Laurel, B. (ed.)
year 1990
title The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design
source New York: Addison-Wesley.
summary Human-computer interface design is a new discipline. So new in fact, that Alan Kay of Apple Computer quipped that people "are not sure whether they should order it by the yard or the ton"! Irrespective of the measure, interface design is gradually emerging as a much-needed and timely approach to reducing the awkwardness and inconveniences of human-computer interaction. "Increased cognitive load", "bewildered and tired users" - these are the byproducts of the "plethora of options and the interface conventions" faced by computer users. Originally, computers were "designed by engineers, for engineers". Little or no attention was, or needed to be, paid to the interface. However, the pervasive use of the personal computer and the increasing number and variety of applications and programs has given rise to a need to focus on the "cognitive locus of human-computer interaction" i.e. the interface. What is the interface? Laurel defines the interface as a "contact surface" that "reflects the physical properties of the interactors, the functions to be performed, and the balance of power and control." (p.xiii) Incorporated into her definition are the "cognitive and emotional aspects of the user's experience". In a very basic sense, the interface is "the place where contact between two entities occurs." (p.xii) Doorknobs, steering wheels, spacesuits-these are all interfaces. The greater the difference between the two entities, the greater the need for a well-designed interface. In this case, the two very different entities are computers and humans. Human-conputer interface design looks at how we can lessen the effects of these differences. This means, for Laurel, empowering users by providing them with ease of use. "How can we think about it so that the interfaces we design will empower users?" "What does the user want to do?" These are the questions Laurel believes must be asked by designers. These are the questions addressed directly and indirectly by the approximately 50 contributors to The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. In spite of the large number of contributors to the book and the wide range of fields with which they are associated, there is a broad consensus on how interfaces can be designed for empowerment and ease of use. User testing, user contexts, user tasks, user needs, user control: these terms appear throughout the book and suggest ways in which design might focus less on the technology and more on the user. With this perspective in mind, contributor D. Norman argues that computer interfaces should be designed so that the user interacts more with the task and less with the machine. Such interfaces "blend with the task", and "make tools invisible" so that "the technology is subervient to that goal". Sellen and Nicol insist on the need for interfaces that are 'simple', 'self-explanatory', 'adaptive' and 'supportive'. Contributors Vertelney and Grudin are interested in interfaces that support the contexts in which many users work. They consider ways in which group-oriented tasks and collaborative efforts can be supported and aided by the particular design of the interface. Mountford equates ease of use with understating the interface: "The art and science of interface design depends largely on making the transaction with the computer as transparent as possible in order to minimize the burden on the user".(p.248) Mountford also believes in "making computers more powerful extensions of our natural capabilities and goals" by offering the user a "richer sensory environment". One way this can be achieved according to Saloman is through creative use of colour. Saloman notes that colour can not only impart information but that it can be a useful mnemonic device to create associations. A richer sensory environment can also be achieved through use of sound, natural speech recognition, graphics, gesture input devices, animation, video, optical media and through what Blake refers to as "hybrid systems". These systems include additional interface features to control components such as optical disks, videotape, speech digitizers and a range of devices that support "whole user tasks". Rich sensory environments are often characteristic of game interfaces which rely heavily on sound and graphics. Crawford believes we have a lot to learn from the design of games and that they incorporate "sound concepts of user interface design". He argues that "games operate in a more demanding user-interface universe than other applications" since they must be both "fun" and "functional".
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