Usability in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

As modes of learning move towards increasingly online interactions the viability of the interface has become critical to the success (or otherwise) of how we acquire knowledge in the twenty-first century.

In this “Medieval Helpdesk” video clip, broadcast on Norway’s NSK in 2001, a monk gets help on “How to Use a Book”, perhaps the first complex user interface that learners had to grapple with.

David Kieras

David Kieras

Professor David Kieras is a researcher in the University of Michigan’s Electrical Engineeringand Computer Science Department.  His research field is applied and theoretical cognitive psychology, with a specific focus on usability in human computer interaction (HCI). In this video lecture, given at CHI’08 in Firenze, Italy (April 7-10 2008), he discusses current cognitive approaches to evaluation of interfaces, icons, affordances, display design and HCI modeling in general.

In the section of the lecture that discusses input basics and aimed movements, Professor Kieras make the interesting observation that zeroing in on small targets (e.g. on a monitor screen with a mouse) requires micro-movements that conform to Fitts’ Law, a model of human movement developed by Paul Fitts in 1954.  The law predicts that smaller targets require more micro-movements than larger ones – which is what you would guess intuitively to be the case – and also helps to explain why different types of input devices such as mice, keyboards, joysticks and trackballs each have advantages depending on the task being performed.  Keyboards, for example, are still the fastest devices for inputting linear data, and the QWERTY keyboard layout takes advantage of the fact that alternating-hand input is faster than using a single hand most of the time in an  alphabetic layout – due to the way the information is processed at the cognitive level.

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2 Responses to “Usability in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)”


  1. 1 Mohammad February 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    “Keyboards, for example, are still the fastest devices for inputting linear data, and the QWERTY keyboard layout takes advantage of the fact that alternating-hand input is faster than using a single hand most of the time in an alphabetic layout – due to the way the information is processed at the cognitive level.”

    I like this point that keyboards are still the fastest devices for inputting linear data. However, if we looked back we would find many components have developed in the computer. For example, the screens of the computer have been enhanced and the programs also have been developed. I can remember that one day I interacted with using iPhone because of the advantage of the touch screen. My point now what if the keyboards of the computers are designed as a touch screen, so the buttons can be replaced with a touch screen.

    Can a touch screen endure users’ usage? Are architects able to design a flexible and competent touch screens as key boards?

    Mohammad Alajmi

  2. 2 tickerr February 20, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Mohammad. Note that I was talking about inputting linear data – i.e. that this is mainly typed text at the moment. Touchscreens and speech recognizers are definitely changing the interface and may replace typed text at some point in the near future, although I think a hybrid system which provides for alternative inputs is the most likely replacement for keyboards at the moment.


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