1. Human Computer Interaction for the Web

The author paints a scenario (U.S. advertising that failed when used overseas) to illustrate the importance of usability as the driver of Web design and suggest that usability is the ultimate end of design.

The approach of this book will stem from the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), which itself has three considerations:

  1. Human Behavior - The nature and capabilities of the person
  2. Computing Technology - The nature and capabilities of technology
  3. Design - Developing an interface between #1 and #2

The scope of the book will focus on the Web - specifically, Web sites, pages, and applications. The initial chapter will summarize the principles of HCI as an approach.

1.1 A Short History of HCI

Until the mid 1980's, computers were used only by a few technically sophisticated individuals, but have spread to the point where they are omnipresent in the daily life of most people. Hence, the research into designing this interface, and eventually the Web interface specifically, is relatively new.

1.1.1 Origins

HCI is a subset of the engineering. Originally, research focused on the interface between humans and machines (industrial machines, vehicles, etc.) was studied, focusing largely on the physical characteristics of human operators (range of motion, strength and stamina, visual acuity, etc.) with a goal of providing controls that a human was capable of using.

A key concept is the symbiotic model: the combination of human and mechanical elements that leverages the advantages of each to derive the most efficient/effective combination. The author also mentions a couple of other approaches (GOMS and "Level of Interaction" models), but in scant detail.

1.1.2 Focus on the User Interface

In the early 1980's, there was a "flurry" of psychological research in the area of human-computer interaction, and at this point, HCI is considered to have come into its own as a field of study.

There was also at this time an explosion in personal computing, and the development of the operating system with a graphical interface, along with a set of standard components that are leveraged by applications (rather than each application creating its own unique GUI).

1.1.3 User Interface Software

A little vague here, but the key is that research focused on the tools and systems that create user interfaces on computer systems.

1.1.4 Usability

In software engineering, developers sought to design applications for ease of use, ease of learning, memorability, lack of errors, and satisfaction, and there was some effort to discover the factors that contributed to "usability" and measurements to gauge these factors. Two factors were key:

Ease of Learning measures the time it takes users to learn to do a task, not only in regard to a specific application, but to multiple applications on a given system (what learning carries from one application to another).

Ease of Use measures the number of actions required to complete a task. Generally, the fewer actions (keystrokes or mouse clicks), the more usable the system or application is considered to be.

1.1.5 Focusing on the Web

The emergence of the Web created yet another specialization within the HCI community, fueled by investment by corporations who had a monetary interest in improving their Web-based operations.

1.2 HCI Principles for the Web

The principles for HCI for the Web are fundamentally the same as they are for any computer interface, as the goals are largely the same. The key difference is that the user has a choice of which site to use, and will abandon a difficult site for a more usable one, making the need for ease-of-use and satisfaction more critical.

1.2.1 User-Centered Design

A key component here is research to determine the characterizes of the types of users (plural) who will interface with a site: from measurable aspects (e.g., degree of experience) to ones that are harder to quantify (e.g., cultural interpretation of color).

1.2.2 Early Human Factors Input

Especially with the availability of multimedia, it becomes important to consider the emotional, affective, and psychomotor factors.

1.2.3 Task Environment Analysis

Task analysis examines the necessary actions to accomplish a specific goal (including the nature and sequence of steps in a process), within the environment of the Web site in which the task is performed.

1.2.4 Iterative Design and Continuous Testing

This process concedes that design is not once-and-done, but is a repetitive process based on measuring performance and seeking more efficient methods of accomplishing a task (from optimizing an existing process to switching to an entirely different paradigm).

1.3 Web Usability

The author points out some of the key differences between usability of systems and applications on a computer and those within the specific environment of the Web, with an eye toward shaking those who are experienced with GUI out of their existing paradigms. Simply stated, the Web is different.

He also enumerates some of the key areas of concern:

He goes into a bit of a tirade at this point: "it's bad, and we must do better," and by "better" he means more usable.

1.4 Themes

1.4.1 Designing for Context

A contextual approach to Web design includes treatments of the Web environment, the user, the Web genre, the Web site, and the Web page. A separate chapter is devoted to each of these topics.

1.4.2 Designing for the User Experience

While basic utility remains important, focus is shifted more to the user experience with a site. The quality of experience determines whether a site is preferred by a user (to competing sites, or to other media).