Review – The past, present & future of HCI

Innovative Hong Kong taxi drivers in ‘The Everyday Hacker’ presentation by UX designer Heidi Smith.

As my first ever UX conference, I was delighted to be invited to the open day at London’s City University’s HCID (Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design). I was invited by Kostya Samoylov – my UX research mentor and former Googler turned startup cofounder.

HCID conducts research, consultancy, degree courses in HCI and features a dedicated Interaction Lab. Speaking of labs, Kostya’s UX-Study startup (who were one of the speakers at the event) is hacking the way user testing labs currently operate. See if your usability labs could be more effective and less expensive (save yourself from forking out thousands for a glorified meeting room).

Firstly, a definition on HCI according to Wikipedia:

Human–computer interaction (commonly referred to as  HCI) researches the design and use of computer technology, focused on the interfaces between people ( users) and computers. Researchers in the field of HCI both  observe the ways in which humans interact with computers and design technologies that let humans interact with computers in novel ways.

The theme for this year’s mini conference was ‘The Past, Present and Future of HCI’,on “where HCI came from, the current state of affairs, and what challenges lay ahead”.

Here are my personal highlights.


We cannot leave UX to the Experts.

Tom Stewart, System Concepts

Awestruck audiences lapped up the juicy keynote ‘Does it matter if we call it HCI or UX?’ by industry legend Tom Stewart, founder of consultancy System Concepts, who’s been involved in the field of ergonomics since the 1970s. New technology is moving at a pace faster than we can keep up with to understand its users. As technology develops, so must usability. We can’t afford to wait for experts to save the day, we have to do it ourselves.

Niche – nice – normal.

Jonathan Hassell, Open Inclusion

“If you want to make a case to vouch for UX accessibility in your organisation, start with CSR and Innovation teams” says Jonathan Hassell, director at accessibility research consultancy Open Inclusion. Very few companies are uninterested in increased ROI. By identifying, understanding and removing barriers you can increase your potential customers by 30%.

Hassell doesn’t like the term ‘inclusive design’, describing it as a “bit patronising and outdated”. He believes that as a society as well as businesses, we need to change our thinking and attitudes towards accessibility as beyond being just for disabled. “We’re all outliers…design for me, difference is normal.”

I couldn’t agree more – accessibility is simply good for all of us. There should not merely be ‘a ramp at an entrance’ mentality – it’s more comprehensive than that. With over 15 years of experience in digital inclusion for the likes of BBC under his belt and as a British Web Accessibility standards author, his book ‘Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility’, is a guide on how to strategically embed inclusion into a broad range of businesses.

Don’t just provide research, provide answers.

Leslie Fountain, Foolproof

Foolproof is a leading agency in the UX space and Managing Director Leslie Fountain is a noted speaker at innovation events. In her talk ‘The State of play in HCI’, she describes the changing demands in the industry and how that affects what agencies look for in talent. “At Foolproof, as a business we encourage and look for people who can see themselves as consultants, rather than just researchers or designers. Consultants have to use skills of persuasion to get clients to understand and buy into the value of HCI.”

Fountain says key areas to invest in for the present and future of HCI are consultants, strategists and creative technologists.

As for the next big growth industries for HCI, UX is going to play a huge role inArtificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Internet Of Things andFintech developments.

Favourite quote:

“Understanding why is one half of the job, communicating why is another.”

Kelsey Smith, Thompson Reuters

Enough said.