Human-computer interaction (HCI) is a rapidly expanding academic research domain. Academic institutions conduct most HCI research—in the US, UK, Europe, Australasia, and Japan, with growth in Southeast Asia and China. HCI research often occurs in Computer Science departments, but retains its historically strong relationship to Psychology and Human Factors. Plus, there are several large, prominent corporations that both conduct HCI research themselves and engage with the academic research community—for example, Microsoft Research, PARC, and Google.
What Do Academic HCI Researchers Do?
In general, academic HCI researchers do three things, as shown in Figure 1.
- They innovate novel computing user interfaces through exploratory engineering and by building complex interactive systems—for example, new software applications and infrastructures, wearable devices, and mobile hardware platforms.
- They develop an empirical understanding of the usage and the user experience of user interfaces—whether through the experimental testing of user interfaces in the lab or qualitative observation of people using user interfaces in the wild, as in ethnographic research.
- They develop theoretical knowledge about the design and use of interactive digital systems. While there are a few predictive theories—such as Fitts’s law, which describes the relationship between pointer movement and the dimensions of interface elements on a screen—more often, HCI theory takes the form of design frameworks comprising interrelated concepts. HCI research may either focus on one small part of the bigger picture or attempt to address the whole.
Figure 1—Academic HCI research