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Lectures on Human Computer Interaction

These are 15 lectures, forming part of the Applying Psychology level 4 option.

Contents (click to jump to a section)

List of handouts

  1. Exercise on critiquing and interface
  2. Revision notes on lectures 1,2,3 (HCI in general)
  3. Prototyping cycle diagrams (2-sided) (stapled to previous handout)
  4. Old campus map, and old index
  5. Redesigned 3D campus map, and 2D map
  6. Revision notes on Minimal manuals
  7. Example diary (exercise)
  8. Instruments for User Interface Performance Measurement
  9. Slides on Direct Manipulation and Activity Theory


Introduction / general HCI

Norman D.A. & Draper,S.W. (1986) (eds.) User Centered System Design (Erlbaum: London).

Norman D.A. (1988) The psychology of everyday things (Basic books: New York).[now The design of everyday things]

Norman D.A. (1998) The invisible computer: why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution (MIT press).

Landauer, T.K. (1987) Relations between cognitive psychology and computer system design ch.1 pp.1-25 in Interfacing Thought (ed.) J.M.Carroll (MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass.).

Landauer,T.K. (1995) The trouble with computers: Usefulness, usability, and productivity (MIT press; Cambridge, MA)

Preece,J., Sharp,H., & Rogers,Y. (2001) Interaction Design: Beyond Human-computer Interaction link

For the methods (thinkalouds etc.) see the big handout, which also contains further reading for each instrument.

For wayfinding, see the report by Nina Webster. You may borrow it from Lynda Young (at reception) to copy.

Minimal manuals

Carroll J.M. (1990) The Nurnberg funnel: designing minimalist instruction for practical computer skill (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT press).

Carroll J.M. (1998) (ed.) Minimalism beyond the Nurnberg funnel (MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass.)

Direct Manipulation

Hutchins, E.L., Hollan, J.D., & Norman D.A. (1986) "Direct manipulation interfaces" in D.A.Norman & S.W.Draper (eds.) ch.5 pp.87-124 User Centered System Design (Erlbaum: London).

Shneiderman, B. (1982) "The future of interactive systems and the emergence of direct manipulation" Behavior and information technology vol.1 pp.237-256.

Shneiderman, B. (1987) Designing the user interface: strategies for effective human-computer interation (Addison-Wesley: Reading, Mass.).

Laurel, B.K. (1986) "Interface as mimesis" in D.A.Norman & S.W.Draper (eds.) ch.4 pp.67-85 User Centered System Design (Erlbaum: London).

Laurel, B. (ed.) (1990) The art of human computer interface design (Addison-Wesley: New York)

Csikszentmihalyi,M. (1990) (Harper & Row) Flow: the psychology of optimal experience

Activity Theory

A.N. Leont'ev (1972/1981) "The problem of activity in psychology"

Jens Rasmussen
(1986) Information Processing and Human-Machine Interaction: an approach to cognitive engineering
(1992) "The ecology of work and interface design" Proc. HCI'92

Susanne Bødker (1989) "A human activity approach to user interfaces" HCI (journal)

Reason, J. (1990) Human Error (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press).

Don Norman (1991) "Cognitive artifacts" in Carroll's (ed.) Designing Interaction

Draper, S.W. (1992) "Activity theory: the new direction for HCI?" in International Journal of Man-Machine Studies vol.37 no.6 pp.812-821.

Nardi,B.A. (ed.) (1996) Context and consciousness: Activity theory and Human-Computer Interaction (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT press)

Draper, S.W. (1999) "Analysing fun as a candidate software requirement" Personal Technologies vol.3 pp.117-122 Also at:

Focus groups

Most of the references for the instruments are in the big handout. However here are some for focus groups that weren't in the handout.

D.L.Morgan Focus groups as qualitative research (1988) (Sage: London) [SocSci A370 MOR2]

R.Foshay Guidelines for evaluating PLATO programs TRO technical paper no.2 (1992) p.23; available at: or locally here.

Learning objectives

(As in the handbook.)
Part 3: Human Computer Interaction. S.W.Draper [lectures 26-40]

[For each lecture I give a) the lecture summary b) the learning objectives.]

27-28a Wayfinding in the university. A case study of applying psychology to a practical problem: how people find their way around campus.
27-28b Students should be able to relate different kinds of study to aspects of a practical issue: establishing what the problems are, and testing attempted solutions.

26a Introduction to HCI and applying psychology to design. 26b Students should be able to discuss critically issues of how psychology may be applied to design, and to problems requiring redesign as a solution.
29-30a An introduction to the concepts of user centered design and the prototyping approach, and the contribution psychology can make.
29-30b Students should be able to discuss what user centered design may mean, and to describe the prototyping cycle.

31-33a Minimal manuals: a user-centered approach to designing computer documentation. One of the few outcomes of direct commercial value from HCI research is the minimalist technique, derived by a psychologist in the course of a long series of studies.
31-33b Students should be able both to describe the technique, and to apply it.

34a Thinkaloud protocols
34b Students should be able to administer a thinkaloud protocol, and to discuss its strengths and weaknesses as in instrument.

35a Incident diaries
35b Students should be able to design and administer an incident diary, and to discuss its strengths and weaknesses as in instrument.

36a Focus groups. When subjects outnumber the investigator: using peer interaction as an elicitation probe, and trying to learn about issues in the subjects', not the investigators', language.
36b Students should be able to design and administer a focus group, and to discuss its strengths and weaknesses as in instrument.

37-38a Semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and feature checklists. The difference between unstructured, semi-structured, and fully structured interviews; and their use in eliciting attitudes, facts, and open-ended issues.
37-38b Students should be able to design and administer these instruments, and to discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

39-40a Direct manipulation and Activity Theory. Direct manipulation is a phenomenon achieved by many of the best user interfaces. Activity theory is a Russian psychology theory. Both are unusual in regarding consciousness as a defining feature of the mental states they seek to explain.
39-40b Students should be able to describe and discuss the concept of direct manipulation, and to outline the main features of activity theory.

Exam questions.


One type of question would be to set an applied problem you have not seen before. E.g. "There are 2 branches of a big store in Glasgow. At one of them, more black bras are sold than white, but at the other this pattern is reversed. Design a study to check whether this is true, and if so to discover why."
The answer should draw upon the methods covered, give a design using one or more of them, and justify the design from the properties of the methods.

Another, more conventional kind of question, would just pick an obvious topic from the learning objectives. E.g. "Discuss the properties of focus groups". This would expect a description of what they are, with a little example of an application: the purpose, the agenda used etc.; and a discussion of the properties as given in the handout. Examples drawn from focus groups you and run yourself would attract extra credit, especially if this make you critical of problems not well discussed in the lectures, or able to illustrate their good points from your own experience.


Discuss the advantages of thinkaloud protocols as a data-gathering instrument, and constrast it to alternative instruments.

Answer sketch:
Chief virtues: on the spot data gathering (does not depend on subjects' memories), and combining data on behaviour and intentions. Limitations include cost in investigator and subject time, and interference of the thinkaloud task with the task being studied. Incident diaries save the investigator cost (but have compliance problems). Variations include videotaping subjects without thinkaloud, and asking the subject to add commentary when later reviewing the tape. Illustrations with examples will be important for a high mark.

Describe the documentation technique of minimal manuals, how it contrasts to other writing tasks, and its relationship to the design of user interfaces to software.

Answer sketch:
An invitation to reproduce the theory and practice of minimal manuals with special mention of how different it is to normal writing (assume the reader has the software in front of them and do not describe what they can see or experience, only what is invisible), and of how this writing is designed and modified identically (by prototyping and iterative design) to how user interfaces are developed. In fact, manuals are really paper screens, to be designed and used as part of the software.

Using the example of how people find their way around campus, discuss how bits of theory and different kinds of empirical study can be brought to bear on a single applied problem.

Answer sketch:
There is a literature on the stages people's representation of a place such as a campus goes through, and on the skills involved in finding one's way. Many types of study are relevant, and are much better when used in combination. Lab studies can probe what people remember: both place names, routes, and ability to sketch maps. New designs of aids, such as signs and maps, can be tested in some ways in the lab e.g. timing how long it takes a subject to find and point to a target on the map. Field studies following subjects around can investigate how well they actually perform on complete tasks. They can also observe where, and in what way, they experience difficulties. Interviews can probe people's accounts of their worst experiences, and so focus an investigator's attention on current bottleneck's in performance on a particular campus. All these methods are subject to criticism: but in combination become much stronger as evidence.


Eliciting data from subjects with a paper instrument that lists questions is a general approach. Compare and contrast, with illustrations of applications to HCI, the different ways this general approach has been developed into particular kinds of instrument. Similarly, interviewing subjects can be done in several basically different ways: compare and contrast the properties and typical purposes of these.

Answer sketch:
Questionnaires, diaries, checklists are all paper instruments with pre-designed questions. Semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and thinkalouds (though usually this doesn't involve prepared questions) all involve interviewing people. The set of properties (retrospective? costs? ....) used in the handout gives a way of comparing them.

Studies of wayfinding on this campus led to some recommendations for improving the campus map. Discuss how well founded these recommendations were, both in themselves and with respect to whether they addressed the most important issues. For each criticism you offer, propose how it could be addressed by further simple studies.

Answer sketch:
The recommendations included redesigning the map index in several respects (including all building names and all department names, sorting alphabetically, changing the map key system e.g. "A3"), changing from 3D to 2D style, and including pictures of key landmarks. These were based on empirical studies, but small ones; and improved studies of the basic findings are easy to suggest, as are studies of the effectiveness of the proposed changes.

Discuss usability and user centered design for both computer software and more generally. Why are they important, and which of the reasons offered are the most important? What, in your opinion, is the best formulation of the aim or aspiration, out of the variety put forward in the literature and computer industry?

Answer sketch:
This invites an answer from the first 3 lectures, covering the prototyping cycle but also with a discussion on the different senses of "user centered": as on behalf of the user, asking the user, inviting users to participate in the design.


Describe the instruments available to HCI that do not rely on the subjects' memory, and why this is important. Illustrate, if possible, with concrete examples.

Answer sketch:
I.e. the on the spot instruments: thinkalouds, diaries, experiments. Drop marks for including wrong instruments. It's important because people remember such a small proportion of the little actions and thoughts that make a difference in interaction. Extra marks for examples not given in the lectures and handouts, because that demonstrates thinking about the material.

Discuss the view that minimalist manuals are just the application of user centered design to documentation rather than to software. Does this lead to a method of writing that contrasts to normal recommendations for writing?

Answer sketch:
(only) one view of minimal manuals is that you just apply the prototyping cycle to a manual and keep changing the design until it best supports what users want the manual for. The principles were arrived at on the basis of essentially that kind of research, and it also needs to be applied in developing any particular manual (though hopefully with fewer iterations, if the principles are indeed a useful extraction of general lessons).

Consider a practical problem you have not studied before, such as developing novel improvements to home security systems. How might you begin to address this empirically, and what does your education as a psychologist contribute to this?

Answer sketch:
An invitation to apply a general applied psychology approach to a novel problem: multiple small studies, peferably of different kinds ("triangulation"), with the early studies leading to the questions and instruments used in later studies. Psychology training principally helps by supplying ideas on the instruments to use and how to use them.

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