ACM Computing Surveys 28A(4), December 1996, http://www.acm.org/surveys/1996/StaskoFuture/. Copyright © 1996 by the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. See the permissions statement below.


Future Research Directions
in Human-Computer Interaction


John T. Stasko

Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0280
stasko@cc.gatech.edu
http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/people/faculty/john.stasko



Abstract: A fundamental area of future HCI research will be the management of vast amounts of information. Three directions hold promise for addressing this research challenge: Better interface navigation, visualization tools for understanding, and agents or automated task managers.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces - Theory and methods

General Terms: Design, Human Factors

Additional Key Words and Phrases: Human-computer interaction, information visualization, agents


The area of human-computer interaction currently plays a vital role in computer science research and its importance will only deepen in the future. Understanding how to create computer hardware and software to facilitate their use by people is simply a fundamental area of computer science. The fastest, most powerful systems are useless unless people can adequately understand and use them. These are not new ideas, but they cannot be reiterated enough.

The emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web and their roles in today's society further echoes the importance of HCI. These two "technologies" have brought ever increasing numbers of people to use and work with computers; people who, for the most part, are new to computing and who have had little, if any, interaction with computers before. A person's first interaction with something new is critical toward their future view of it, and this view may become permanent. Therefore, it is vitally important that usable, useful systems be built so that more people are able to benefit from the information that is now available.

Many individuals have used the prominence of the Internet and the World Wide Web to support the argument that computers are now becoming communication rather than computation devices. I believe there is some truth in this view. Whether the statement is true or not, it is clear that many people are using computers as their primary communication and information dispersal tools. With computers in such an important role, the value of good, usable, useful interfaces is magnified.

HCI is, in some sense, a "newer" recognized area of computer science than other areas such as algorithms, operating systems, programming languages, data bases, and so on. Certainly, however, people have been thinking about how to best take advantage of computers ever since they were created, so it would be fair to argue that HCI does extend to the earliest days of computing. HCI is, however, a fundamentally different type of computer science area than the others mentioned above. Those disciplines involve more quantifiable, easily comparable measures: how much memory is used, how fast does it run, how many operations are required, etc. Conversely, HCI is a more subjective discipline in which design and evaluation are hallmarks. This is not to say that HCI does not have a formal, quantifiable component---certainly, good empirical experimentation is a foundation of the area. HCI is, however, fundamentally different simply because of the key role of the human in the area, a factor that makes predictability and characterization so challenging. Good HCI research requires understanding how people work just as much, if not more, than how computers work.

As contributors, we have been asked to speculate on the important issues in HCI in the future. I believe that the most important issue in future HCI research will be how to assist people to accessing, managing, and understanding the vast amount of data and information that is available to them. The Internet, the Web, and computers in general have helped to facilitate an information explosion that threatens to inundate us all. I routinely receive 60 or 70 electronic mail messages per day. Managing this inflow of information and questions can easily require 2-3 hours of attention each day. This simply is not time that I have available. Similarly, the Web contains an ever increasing amount of information that could be quite valuable to me in my work, but I have relatively little time to browse the Web. Yes, search engines can provide assistance in this task, but I miss the capability to do the type of informal browsing that occasionally turns up an unexpected, yet useful, piece of information.

Consequently, I believe three areas of research will drive future HCI work:

Better interface navigation -- Although GUI and WIMP interfaces are a big step past line-oriented terminals, they still have a learning curve and they can be awkward to use. HCI research must develop improved interfaces that are more natural to use and more simple to learn than current interfaces. I believe that interfaces using voice input (speech recognition) harbor great potential here. Voice input technology, both hardware and software, is improving---It is now the job of HCI researchers to find the ways to best utilize this technology.

Visualization tools for understanding -- As mentioned earlier, vast amounts of useful information are becoming available and accessible through electronic means. Providing people with a way to digest all this information and extract the relevant parts for their individual objectives is a key challenge facing HCI researchers. Sophisticated information visualization tools that present complex or large quantities of data to people in comprehensible, accessible ways are another important area that HCI research should focus upon in the future.

A number of examples of this type of work exist: Ben Shneiderman's information visualization tools, the SAGE project at CMU, recent work from Xerox PARC, and hopefully my own work on software visualization systems, just to name a few. A dramatic step forward will be frameworks that allow people to easily construct their own visualizations for information sources unique to a domain of interest to them.

Agents or automated task managers -- I am hesitant to use the word "agent" here because it has so many interpretations. This category simply refers to computational tools that aid people in time-consuming, relatively uninteresting, but important tasks. Consider the following example.

Many colleagues know that I am an avid golfer. The Internet newsgroup rec.sport.golf has many different types of messages posted to it. One style of posting, an article that summarizes the good golf courses in a particular city or area, is very useful and interesting to me. Such a posting provides helpful tips on courses to play when traveling. Unfortunately, the golf newsgroup routinely receives 100 or more postings a day, and I simply do not have the time to read all the postings in order to identify the 4 or 5 of this particular type. Consequently, I would like to have an automated system that performs this task for me: search the newsgroup, extract articles of this type, and file them in a directory under the pertinent geographic location.

It is easily possible to identify hundreds of similar style tasks that now exist due to the information explosion. Future HCI research should seek to develop techniques and systems to assist people in managing such tasks. Of particular importance will be simplified methods of allowing people to "program" such automated tools to perform in the correct, desired behaviors.

I believe these three topics are the cornerstones for future research in human-computer interaction. Important work also will occur in alternative interfaces modalities, mobile computing, as well as interfaces for very large and small displays. As the computer becomes more and more pervasive in society, HCI research, which already is so fundamental to the field, will only grow in value and necessity.

Acknowledgements

Prepared for the ACM Workshop on Strategic Directions in Computing Research,
Working Group on Human Computer Interaction.


Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. Copyrights for components of this work owned by others than ACM must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers, or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. Request permissions from Publications Dept, ACM Inc., fax +1 (212) 869-0481, or permissions@acm.org.


Last modified: November 12, 1996
John T. Stasko stasko@cc.gatech.edu
Computing Surveys: Future Research Directions in Human-Computer Interaction

ACM Computing Surveys 28A(4), December 1996, http://www.acm.org/surveys/1996/StaskoFuture/. Copyright © 1996 by the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. See the permissions statement below.


Future Research Directions
in Human-Computer Interaction


John T. Stasko

Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332-0280
stasko@cc.gatech.edu
http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/people/faculty/john.stasko



Abstract: A fundamental area of future HCI research will be the management of vast amounts of information. Three directions hold promise for addressing this research challenge: Better interface navigation, visualization tools for understanding, and agents or automated task managers.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces - Theory and methods

General Terms: Design, Human Factors

Additional Key Words and Phrases: Human-computer interaction, information visualization, agents


The area of human-computer interaction currently plays a vital role in computer science research and its importance will only deepen in the future. Understanding how to create computer hardware and software to facilitate their use by people is simply a fundamental area of computer science. The fastest, most powerful systems are useless unless people can adequately understand and use them. These are not new ideas, but they cannot be reiterated enough.

The emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web and their roles in today's society further echoes the importance of HCI. These two "technologies" have brought ever increasing numbers of people to use and work with computers; people who, for the most part, are new to computing and who have had little, if any, interaction with computers before. A person's first interaction with something new is critical toward their future view of it, and this view may become permanent. Therefore, it is vitally important that usable, useful systems be built so that more people are able to benefit from the information that is now available.

Many individuals have used the prominence of the Internet and the World Wide Web to support the argument that computers are now becoming communication rather than computation devices. I believe there is some truth in this view. Whether the statement is true or not, it is clear that many people are using computers as their primary communication and information dispersal tools. With computers in such an important role, the value of good, usable, useful interfaces is magnified.

HCI is, in some sense, a "newer" recognized area of computer science than other areas such as algorithms, operating systems, programming languages, data bases, and so on. Certainly, however, people have been thinking about how to best take advantage of computers ever since they were created, so it would be fair to argue that HCI does extend to the earliest days of computing. HCI is, however, a fundamentally different type of computer science area than the others mentioned above. Those disciplines involve more quantifiable, easily comparable measures: how much memory is used, how fast does it run, how many operations are required, etc. Conversely, HCI is a more subjective discipline in which design and evaluation are hallmarks. This is not to say that HCI does not have a formal, quantifiable component---certainly, good empirical experimentation is a foundation of the area. HCI is, however, fundamentally different simply because of the key role of the human in the area, a factor that makes predictability and characterization so challenging. Good HCI research requires understanding how people work just as much, if not more, than how computers work.

As contributors, we have been asked to speculate on the important issues in HCI in the future. I believe that the most important issue in future HCI research will be how to assist people to accessing, managing, and understanding the vast amount of data and information that is available to them. The Internet, the Web, and computers in general have helped to facilitate an information explosion that threatens to inundate us all. I routinely receive 60 or 70 electronic mail messages per day. Managing this inflow of information and questions can easily require 2-3 hours of attention each day. This simply is not time that I have available. Similarly, the Web contains an ever increasing amount of information that could be quite valuable to me in my work, but I have relatively little time to browse the Web. Yes, search engines can provide assistance in this task, but I miss the capability to do the type of informal browsing that occasionally turns up an unexpected, yet useful, piece of information.

Consequently, I believe three areas of research will drive future HCI work:

Better interface navigation -- Although GUI and WIMP interfaces are a big step past line-oriented terminals, they still have a learning curve and they can be awkward to use. HCI research must develop improved interfaces that are more natural to use and more simple to learn than current interfaces. I believe that interfaces using voice input (speech recognition) harbor great potential here. Voice input technology, both hardware and software, is improving---It is now the job of HCI researchers to find the ways to best utilize this technology.

Visualization tools for understanding -- As mentioned earlier, vast amounts of useful information are becoming available and accessible through electronic means. Providing people with a way to digest all this information and extract the relevant parts for their individual objectives is a key challenge facing HCI researchers. Sophisticated information visualization tools that present complex or large quantities of data to people in comprehensible, accessible ways are another important area that HCI research should focus upon in the future.

A number of examples of this type of work exist: Ben Shneiderman's information visualization tools, the SAGE project at CMU, recent work from Xerox PARC, and hopefully my own work on software visualization systems, just to name a few. A dramatic step forward will be frameworks that allow people to easily construct their own visualizations for information sources unique to a domain of interest to them.

Agents or automated task managers -- I am hesitant to use the word "agent" here because it has so many interpretations. This category simply refers to computational tools that aid people in time-consuming, relatively uninteresting, but important tasks. Consider the following example.

Many colleagues know that I am an avid golfer. The Internet newsgroup rec.sport.golf has many different types of messages posted to it. One style of posting, an article that summarizes the good golf courses in a particular city or area, is very useful and interesting to me. Such a posting provides helpful tips on courses to play when traveling. Unfortunately, the golf newsgroup routinely receives 100 or more postings a day, and I simply do not have the time to read all the postings in order to identify the 4 or 5 of this particular type. Consequently, I would like to have an automated system that performs this task for me: search the newsgroup, extract articles of this type, and file them in a directory under the pertinent geographic location.

It is easily possible to identify hundreds of similar style tasks that now exist due to the information explosion. Future HCI research should seek to develop techniques and systems to assist people in managing such tasks. Of particular importance will be simplified methods of allowing people to "program" such automated tools to perform in the correct, desired behaviors.

I believe these three topics are the cornerstones for future research in human-computer interaction. Important work also will occur in alternative interfaces modalities, mobile computing, as well as interfaces for very large and small displays. As the computer becomes more and more pervasive in society, HCI research, which already is so fundamental to the field, will only grow in value and necessity.

Acknowledgements

Prepared for the ACM Workshop on Strategic Directions in Computing Research,
Working Group on Human Computer Interaction.


Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. Copyrights for components of this work owned by others than ACM must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers, or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. Request permissions from Publications Dept, ACM Inc., fax +1 (212) 869-0481, or permissions@acm.org.


Last modified: November 12, 1996
John T. Stasko stasko@cc.gatech.edu