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We offer a historical perspective on the development of the human-computer interaction (HCI) field over the last 20 years. We do not attempt to identify or detail the origins of the field, but instead focus on how it has changed during the time that we have considered ourselves specialists in this area. We feel that our timing was good, if not quite perfect. Although we were not fortunate enough to have stumbled on the pioneering work of Doug Engelbart or the exciting work going on at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) during our graduate studies (see Pew (1) for a good overview), we were completing our graduate work in psychology at a time (1982) when technology companies were beginning to feel a need to better understand how people interact with computers. There were no degrees in HCI in those days--just people who had a strong interest in making technology more valuable for a wider audience and who had a belief that behavioral science could play an important role in advancing this cause.
We will not try to be comprehensive in this brief paper. In the 20 years since the first conference on human factors in computing systems was held in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 1982, which led to the first Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI) Conference in 1983 and the first INTERACT Conference in 1984, thousands of research papers have been published on a wide range of topics. The field has thrived and struggled with its multidisciplinary nature. Research has focused on raw technology (such as pointing devices and speech recognition), on interface styles (such as command languages, menu designs, and direct manipulation), on the use of technology in the workplace and at home, and on methods for design of usable systems. HCI research has examined a variety of application domain areas such as health care, education, finance, home use, and entertainment. Additionally, the impact of technology developments such as pervasive computing and the Internet have led to an increased examination of human issues such as privacy, trust, and security. Our focus here is on how the role of the user of technology has changed and evolved in research and development within the computer industry. In 20 years, we have seen a movement from focusing on specialists (e.g., computer operators or programmers) to examining how technology impacts us all. The user of technology tended to be viewed as the human (perhaps error prone) necessary to complete some task with a system. Now we are attempting to view the user more complexly: as a human in a social system in which the computer plays an increasingly important role.
The history of HCI is one in which we have experienced a gradual shift from attempts by different parts of the community to focus on their own narrow view of the field to a more cooperative effort to understand what it means to build systems that people value. When the first author of this paper first came to IBM Research, there was a "theory" group working to extend behavioral science theory to describe human interaction with a particular type of technology (mostly desktop computers). The group focused on the kind of behavioral theories that were largely individual and cognitive; that is, they looked mostly at the computer as a tool for individual use and were primarily interested in how cognitive activities such as learning and problem-solving developed in computer users. There were also various technology groups focused on issues such as display resolution and speech recognition. For them, HCI was about developing technology that was better without worrying specifically about measuring empirically how valuable it might be to humans. For the behavioral scientists, how useful the behavioral theories would be for design was not a primary concern. It was simply, optimistically perhaps, assumed that theory would be valuable. For the technologist, the uses to which the new technology would be put was not a primary concern. It was assumed that better technology would find uses. We do not think that there is anything wrong with these positions, but, over the years, the HCI community has looked for ways in which dialog between behaviorally and technically oriented researchers might lead to more productive end results.
Defining human-computer interaction
In 1982, a conference called "Human Factors in Computer Systems" was held in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (2) This conference has come to be regarded as the first major conference devoted to human performance issues in computer system design, development, and use. The event was followed by the renaming and refocusing of the Special Interest Group on Social and Behavioral Computing (SIGSOC) within ACM to SIGCHI (3) and by the ACM SIGCHI conferences that have been held since 1983. Similar developments within the international community led to the formation of a Technical Committee on Human-Computer Interaction within the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) (4) and to the IFIP TC13 INTERACT conferences that followed from 1984. At the time, a Computer Systems Technical Group already existed within the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (and still does), but this group was and remains more narrowly focused both in its membership and in its focus on the evaluation of human-machine interfaces. (5) Although most persons doing evaluation of human-computer dialog were members of the Human Factors Society in 1982, most working on the design and development of new technologies were not. In our opinion, the SIGCHI and INTERACT conferences were successful (both immediately and over the past 20 years) because they provided a forum for synergy between those focused on the human side of HCI and those focused on the technology side.
We consider this multidisciplinary approach a key component of the field of human-computer interaction. Although membership in worldwide professional organizations related to HCI exceeds 10000 academicians, researchers, and practitioners, very few of these people actually have degrees in HCI. Lack of such degrees is related to the fact that there are still very few universities that offer such a degree, more out of the difficulty in clearly defining the components of HCI as a multidisciplinary field than from lack of interest. Backgrounds of researchers and practitioners include a range of behavioral sciences that includes psychology, anthropology, and sociology, along with computer science and other science and engineering disciplines. These different communities are brought together by the shared goal of producing technological systems that are better for humans, and by the shared …