About HCI

By its very nature, HCI is a truly multidisciplinary endeavor. HCI research is conducted in many settings in a wide range of disciplines at Canadian universities and research establishments. Some disciplines focus primarily on the human aspects. These include cognitive psychology, human factors and ergonomics, social psychology, organizational psychology, as well as studies relating to the effects of aging. Cognitive science is also a relevant perspective involving the study of cognitive processes. In addition, the human aspects of HCI include sociology and anthropology, especially research involving the impact of technology and technological factors on society as a whole. Several areas in the study of commerce, such as consumer behaviour, knowledge management, and especially information systems also contribute to HCI. HCI also draws upon research in the fields of architecture and design, literature, music, theatre and film, as well as cultural and media theory, to explore the aesthetic, affective and semiotic dimensions of new media and technologies, and the symbolic traces they leave on our built environment, individual subjectivities and communities. The HCI degree reflects this diversity and covers a range of human involvement, from the individual at the base, to groups, to organizations such as business, and human culture generally.

Other disciplines focus primarily on the technical aspects. These include computer and system engineering, and especially engineering for direct human use, and so aspects of digital signal processing for communications, human factors and ergonomics, and engineering of safety systems are all relevant. In addition, software engineering and computer science involve software development processes, requirements analysis, prototyping, user interface design, web technology, computer graphics, computer modeling, and computer security.

Human and technology aspects are linked in a wide variety of disciplines that address the application of technology for some specific human ends. This involves disciplines such as industrial design and architecture, both because these disciplines stress the relationship between human use and technology, and because information and communications technology increasingly feature in the nature of their subject matter. These disciplines all focus on the skill of applying traditional design principles to two- and three- dimensional (virtual or physical) environments, artifacts, and sensory-rich (visual, auditory, haptic, etc.) interaction.

This range of contributing disciplines include the large and concrete scale of architecture, the human scale of industrial design, multimedia and new media such as ubiquitous or locative media. Another disciplinary example is cartography, because it has long concerned the human qualities in understanding and facilitating work in the earth sciences, and because technology is transforming the nature of the discipline itself. You will find more information about the three streams in the HCI degree here, and a list of all the contributing professors here.

History of HCI at Carleton University

Carleton was one of the first Universities to embrace HCI. The CURE (Computer User Research & Evaluation) Lab was founded by Professors Dick Dillon, Jo Wood, and Warren Thorngate in 1978; HCI has been taught in the Department of Psychology since then and has produced well over 100 MA and PhD graduates. The three founders were all frustrated with computer systems that would not do what they wanted them to do, so while writing their own programs to support their research in human memory, animal studies, and social psychology, they began to teach HCI. Their courses soon became very popular with the local IT industry, notable the Bell Northern Research Labs which, at its peak, employed around 250 Industrial Designers, Human Factors and HCI specialists. The close connection with our local IT industry culminated in the creation of an NSERC Industry Research Chair in 2000, and then in the re-naming of the CURE lab to the Human-Oriented Technology Lab (HOTLab). However, HCI is, by its very nature, multidisciplinary, and so, we realized that it needed a home that did not exclusively focus on psychology. All of our colleagues who are participating in the new HCI Master’s degree are, in fact, doing some research in HCI. It therefore made sense to establish a degree that recognizes the multidisciplinary character of HCI and enables us to collaborate more formally in some of the many fascinating research projects that already span many Schools, Departments, and Faculties at Carleton.