A user interface is described as the system that enables users or computer operators to have an interaction with a computer or any computerized machine. The components that make up a user interface include the hardware components which are mostly physical and software programs that are used to run the hardware. User interfaces or UIs provide machine users with the option of inputting information into the computer systems and providing output information for the input request by the user.
The current information systems categorize the human-computer interaction to take place through the use of the user interface. The purpose of the user interface is to foster an interaction between the user and the machine that will result in effective operations and carrying out of computerized activities. The interaction also ensures that there is feedback and communication in what the user wants to be performed by the machine which will also aide in decision making. User interfaces are also designed to make the use of the machine to be an enjoyable and efficient experience.
With the continued improvements on technology taking place everyday, the user interface has faced modifications that have seen the system become more graphical and user friendly in nature. The personalization of computer systems with particular focus on the user interfaces has been viewed to provide each individual user with the particular set of information that they need.
The personalization of web services has been seen to improve the interaction that the user will have with the information presented by the machine. The growing use of the Internet as a means of sharing and distributing information has initiated the growth of instruction oriented websites or web pages that offer instructions in the form of supplemental materials. The Internet incorporates the use of hypertext or hypermedia programs in the form of link nodes that provide accessibility to various information sites.
The information contained in the hypertext is usually in a non-linear and an unstructured form, with the main method of data manipulation being scrolling and clicking. The amount of data contained in a web page makes it difficult for the user to view all the information in one sitting when compared to using a textbook. This creates a loss of interaction effectiveness between the user and the computer; such a challenge presents a problem to the designers of software programs who find it difficult bridging the gap of effectiveness in the user interface (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
Human Computer Interaction
A barrier that makes it difficult for machine users to accept the importance of computer’s fully is the aspect of user unfriendliness and the complexity of the machine systems that makes it difficult to understand and operate the computer system. The use of human computer interactions has been seen to be vital in making computer hardware and software easy to use and manage. To add on this, the user interface interactions have also increased the productivity of the user, reduced the number of work errors committed by the user, improved the utilization of computer resources and minimized the amount of maintenance programs that have to be performed on the computer software and hardware (Staggers & Miller, 2001).
The study of how people design, implement and use the user interactive component of the computer systems as well as assess the impact of this interaction to the individual user is known as the human computer interaction (HCI). Usability is seen to be an important aspect of the HCI process as it addresses specific issues that influence the users of computers and the computer itself. To add on this, usability deals with the aspect of human performance while the user is interacting with the computer. Usability involves the ease of using the computer system, the satisfaction that the user derives from using the system and the efficiency of using the system which should be free from any errors and mistakes (Staggers & Miller, 2001).
The main aim of studying human computer interactions is to develop technological innovations that will be more user friendly and acceptable. The field of HCI is multidisciplinary in nature since there is no one theory that can be used to explain the relationship between the user and the machine. There are however traditional cognitive psychological studies based on human cognition that view the user as the major dominant player in the human computer interaction process. According to these psychological studies, humans process information based on their sensory abilities and the type of knowledge they posses (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
Types of Human Computer Interaction Approaches or User Interfaces
There are three commonly used user interfaces in web based programs and systems which are the graphical user interfaces, voice user interfaces, and the multi modal interfaces. Graphical user interfaces are the most commonly used human computer interaction techniques because they make the computing of information into the computer easier. Graphical user interfaces (GUI) separate the logical threads that are used by the user in input functions by displaying the information is a visual format through a window system.
This window system is often made of windows, icons, menus and pointers that make up the WIMP interface. Graphical interfaces are the most preferable HCI approaches because they ensure the user has visibility to the objects of interest, they enable the user to directly manipulate complex command languages that will be used to decipher the object of interest, graphical user interfaces provide the user with rapid feedback once they key in their requests and they allow for the reversibility of actions without any drastic consequences (Dix et al, 2004).
Voice user interfaces (VUI) encompass the use of speech technology that is mostly important for challenged people who want to access web based systems. The concept of touchtone telephony was disappointing and this caused dissatisfaction to customers and as a result, VUIs were introduced. There was also a great need to meet the customers’ needs that called for more effective systems that were cheaper. The VUI also arose from a need to have advances in speech technology that would see speech systems being more reliable and effective in speech technology delivery than they originally were (Cohen et al, 2004).
A VUI is described as what the user interacts with when using a web program that incorporates an audio application. The auditory interfaces, otherwise known as VUIs, provide a user interface with the human in the form of sound. The input information that is used by the user is speech and the output of the requested information is in the form of sound. The designers of voice user interfaces have to take into consideration the underlying assumptions and conventions of basic human conversation when designing the software for these interfaces (Cohen et al, 2004).
The indispensable constituents that composition VUIs comprise of voice prompts which blend the sounds played to the user during the interaction, grammars which are the user responses to the voice prompts and the dialog logic which is used to determine the actions that a system will take once the user makes a move. The VUIs provide the user with an opportunity to use nonverbal audio functions as well as supplying information that will facilitate the interaction of the user with the application program or software. Further more, the know voice programs are viewed to be effectual in that they draw on the users language skills through simplifying the input successions to a more understandable notion (Cohen et al, 2004).
A know multi modal system that is known to be authentic frequently relies on the use of numerous channels of communication for both the output and input functions. The multi modal user interfaces were basically developed to deal with problems that were associated with the graphic user interfaces and the visual interfaces. The interfaces were developed to provide a more immersive environment for the interaction that takes place between the human and the computerized machine (Dix et al, 2004).
Issues in Designing Web Based Systems
Several challenges arise when designing web based systems that have user interface aspects incorporated in them. Designers of web systems seek to ensure that users can be able to interact with the web program and with technology in general in an efficient and effective way. Designers usually have the needs of the user in mind when they create programs or machines. They have to understand the demands of the user by analyzing their behavior, character and their knowledge about web based systems and programs.
Designers or HCI professionals therefore have to understand the users before they develop any machine hardware or computerized programs. To gain more information about the users of software programs, the HCI professionals conduct an analysis of the user’s relevant knowledge, skills and capabilities in relation to software programs and information systems found in the Internet. If a user is found to have a high knowledge of web based programs, they might prefer to have a web program that has a high density in information and high data flow in the web page (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
The design of the web program will therefore be based on the level of competency the user has with web programs. Human computer interaction studies and research are conducted to ensure that the interaction between the human user and the computer has been addressed in the design of the user interface. The analysis is therefore seen as an important factor in developing a system that will meet the user’s needs and capability of handling web based programs. If the designer or HCI professional has information about users who prefer to use positive polarities in their reading, they can be able to design high resolution screens (Dillon & Zhu, 1997).
However having user information is not enough in developing programs that have more efficient human computer interaction processes. This creates a gap that can only be filled by technological advances in the field of user interface design. The use of information based on human perceptions and cognitive activities cannot be reliable as the preferences of human beings keep changing with any new technological innovation that has entered the market.
The design team might develop a program based on user analysis which might prove to be unusable because of a change in demand in the technological market. Another challenge that faces computer programmers and web designers is the aspect of bridging the gap between the user and the machine. Web programs contain features that allow the user to interact with the website but the computer hardware itself lacks the proper interaction features that will be used to meet the user’s needs (Milewski, 2004).
Designers of web based programs mostly focus on the aspects of the web design and its features instead of also considering the users knowledge and skills. Such challenges present the need for improvements in the human computer interaction processes. Other issues that have arisen when developing web based programs with user interaction have been enabling users to attain sufficient amounts of information so that they can be able to have an effective interaction with the web program (Stephanidis et al, 1998).
Assumptions of Human Computer Interaction and Web Based Programs
The main assumption that underlies the concept of HCI is designing computer based programs applications that can be accessed by a large population at once. This is what is referred to as universal accessibility. Designers incorporate the use of universal accessibility in designing computer programs that are targeted at a large consumer audience instead of the individual consumer. Designers also create programs for the average user who is defined as a person with medium computer skills and knowledge of web based applications (Stephanidis et al, 1998).
The paradigm shifts in business operations from computing to communication intensive activities have made the notion of an average user to be irrelevant in designing web programs and computer software. The aim of designing web based programs for the average user will change due to the increasing demands to design programs that are universally accessible (Stephanidis et al, 1998).
Techniques of Improving User Computer Interactions
According to Sullivan (2005), indexed results show that the World Wide Web has a total of 3 billion pages. This high number of information has been designed to reach the growing number of consumers that are turning to the internet for their information, research and data capturing needs. The three billion pages have been designed with different and unique software programs that are meant to differentiate them from other WebPages that contain similar information over the Internet. The software programs that are used to develop these pages have documentation that is created in the form of hypertext which is also known as html. Hypertext functionality or html allows the user to input and search for information in the webpage or search engine (De Bra et al, 2004).
Hypertext functionality provides approaches for finding information over the Internet. The most common approach is typing the URL link of the information that one is interested in within the browser location after which the page shows the information requested by the user. The user mostly has to describe the information they are looking for by keying in a search word or letter. This however presents a problem when the results from the web page display information that the user was not looking for or the requested information is too short and unclear. Another problem presents itself when the webpage provides interesting information making it difficult for the user to navigate through the page and find the most useful piece of data (De Bra et al, 2004).
The concept of user modeling has been developed to improve the human machine interaction by offering solutions to the problem of searching for relevant information. User modeling involves gathering information about the user from the search information they have keyed in that will be used to change the content of the webpage and the links that display results of the user’s request. User modeling is meant to capture the thinking process and knowledge of the machine user that will be integrated into the URL links so that the users search request can be determined and processed.
Adaptive hypermedia has also been created to improve the human computer interaction by providing web personalization services for every user of the webpage. Personalization has taken the form of registering user information with particular websites by providing information about the user’s interests and opinions. Once the user registers, they can be able to personalize the webpage and the information contained in the website to suite their personal needs. The website in turn monitors the user’s patterns and behavior which are used to develop a user model that represents the user’s interests (De Bra et al, 2004).
The extensive research that has been undertaken in adaptive hypermedia has seen the development of techniques and approaches that can be used to manage user interface interactions. New adaptive media innovations are meant to ensure that the user has better accessibility to search information while at the same time providing visible guidance in the website. Other studies that have been conducted on adaptive hypermedia have been on developing ways to describe the aspects of the application system and the user which when combined form the adaptation of the computer system.
The basic components that are used to design an adaptive hypermedia system are the user model, the domain model, and the adaptation model. The interactions between the different models of the adaptive hypermedia systems can be further explained by demonstrating how a user’s request is processed in the website. The user first types in search information into the website after which they select a link that best relays the information they are looking for. Every link or webpage represents a concept in the domain and the user model (De Bra et al, 2004).
The system then checks the input information for suitability by analyzing the prerequisite relationships that exist between the domain and user models. The prerequisite relationship requires that there should be an interaction between the domain model and the user model. This relationship is important in determining the suitability of information so that the user’s information can be processed effectively. After checking the suitability of the information, the system updates the user model by incorporating the adaptive hypermedia rules for adaptation which require that the knowledge value of the concept should correspond with the requested page (De Bra et al, 2004).
The presentation of the hypermedia information in the requested page can be done by altering the webpage contents. This can be achieved by hiding certain links in the page in the event the prerequisite relationship has not been achieved. The presentation can also be manipulated by changing the links that emanate from the webpage by annotating or changing the destination of the link. Link annotation can be done by hiding the selected link or removing it completely from the webpage. There have been many adaptive hypermedia systems which have been developed for use by the various websites within the World Wide Web. Examples include ELM-ART which are adaptive systems developed for educational purposes, general-purpose adaptive systems such as the adaptive hypermedia architecture (AHA), Interbook and recommender systems (De Bra et al, 2004).
Usability developing of Human Computer Interaction software
Usability has featured sparsely in the traditional software engineering approaches where a system’s functionality has been given more focus and this many a times reflects wrongly on the product. According to Dix et al (2004), “the user-oriented design as highlighted by is used to supplement the design of web based programs so that they can provide better interactive systems”.
One approach that has been used to develop user centered design systems has been the incorporation of usability engineering strategies that will provide the basic evaluation criteria to be used in assessing whether the program design has met the requirements of usability. Usability engineering involves the use of usability principles such as the efficiency of the program, the ease of learning the program, satisfaction with the application, the amount of errors and the memorability of the web program to the user in developing effective interaction systems (Raymond, 2004).
The architects of software programs have mastered techniques that will enable them to deal with the attributes related to quality programs such as performance, reliability, relevance and sustainability. The aspect of usability has however presented a challenge for these designers as it is mostly focused on presenting information which has made it hard to separate usability from the user interface. Usability has been viewed as a problem in the modification of the web based programs (Bastide, et al, 2005).
The user interface maybe easily modified due to the web program’s separation from the presentation and this makes it easier for users to access information on the programs. The consistency of this program has taken center stage due to its interactivity that makes it easy for users to modify the system after testing it. Separating the usability function from the rest of the program has become a standard practice with most developers of web information and programs (Bastide, et al, 2005).
The field of human computer interaction is no doubt a complex one but vital in bridging the gap between the user and the computer. There is a growing emphasis on designing interfaces that will meet the needs, program abilities and skills of the user as well as provide a personalized experience when using web based programs and applications. There is a need for designers and architects of web based applications to view interactive systems as important in ensuring the success of the program. This can be accomplished by ensuring there is compatibility between the user interface design and the skills, knowledge and characteristics of the user by analyzing their cognitive processes; this will ensure the human computer interaction is effective and efficient.
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