“Human-Computer Interaction An Empirical Research Perspective” by I. Scott MacKenzie; Morgan Kaufmann

HCI is a relatively new field of research, emerging in the 1980s as computers moved from use by the specialist to more mainstream usage in the office and the home. This book provides an excellent, well written, easy to understand, and interesting introduction to this fascinating field of research. The book has two main sections, the first provides a thorough background to HCI, while the second deals with best practices for conducting HCI research. Each chapter includes a set of student exercises, including some studies to run. Software is available to download to help with the studies in the exercises, in addition to the statistical programs. The book is thoroughly referenced with a comprehensive bibliography included. Powerpoint presentations are also available to help teachers to use the book to create lessons.

The first three chapters of the book provide the background to HCI. The first chapter provides an in-depth description of the historical context of HCI and how it interweaves and influences the history of computing including the invention of the mouse, the Xerox star, and the development of the graphical user interface. This is a fascinating chapter with some technological developments happening earlier in history than you may think. The second chapter provides an insight into the current understanding of the ‘human factor’, us and how we work, and how this is relevant to the design of computer interfaces. Elements discussed include the different time scales of relevance when talking about humans; human senses such as vision, hearing, touch; elements that enable control such as movement, voice, and eyes; the brain including perception, memory, and cognition; issues in language; and human performance such as reaction time, skills, attention, and errors. This is an easy to read introduction to these topics that can be very heavy going in some other texts. The third chapter deals with “Interaction elements” and how humans make the computer do the things that they want it to do. Elements included are hard and soft controls – the differences between physical switches and controls on the screen; control-display relationships such as spatial relationships, gain and transfer, latency, and order of control; natural and learned relationships; mental models and metaphor; modes and degrees of freedom; mobile context; and interaction errors.

The remaining chapters of the book provide an introduction to performing and publishing HCI research. Chapter four provides an introduction to scientific foundation of research, details of different research methods and techniques, research questions and validity, investigating cause and relationships, and defining research questions. Chapter 5 covers the design of HCI experiments including methodology, ethics, descriptions of the various types of variables, procedure and task design, questionnaire design, participants, different types of studies and effects, and how to run the experiment. Chapter 6 provides an introduction to hypothesis testing and statistics. Some java tools are provided to download for the statistical tests examples described in the chapter (although Windows only). Explanations are provided on which tests to use. Chapter 7 describes modelling interaction with a variety of different modelling techniques. Each of the models is described using case studies to illustrate the context of their use in HCI. Finally, chapter 8 describes the process for writing an academic publication and details of the structure expected for writing up an HCI experiment. This chapter provides some very useful hints of subjects such as citation, appropriate language and reducing word count.

This is an excellent resource for students, teachers, practitioners, and anyone who is interested in HCI. The first half of the book should also be of interest to anyone developing interfaces because it provides an insight into understanding the behaviour and limitations of humans and many examples of how computer interfaces can be designed to work effectively for humans.

For more information, see the O’Reilly product page.


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