Nick Arner

Some Resources For Learning About HCI

Posted at — Jan 22, 2021

I was recently asked what books or other resources to check out to learn more about the field of Human-Computer Interaction, and thought the best way to respond would be a blog post with some books, papers, and people that I personally found interesting.

While the field of HCI is very wide and very deep, and this list will not cover nearly everything there is that’s been written on the field; I wanted to highlight a few books and papers I personally consider to be significant.

Books

Designing Interactions - IDEO co-founder Bill Moggridge’s book is a comprehensive, weighty tome that covers a broad variety of work across the field of HCI, including interviews with the pioneers and practitioners who worked in the field.

The Humane Interface - Written by Jef Raskin, the creator of the Apple Macintosh project; The Humane Interface discusses and critiques common interface design patterns, and demands that interfaces become easier to learn for the people who use them.

Understanding Computers and Cognition - Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores discuss the cognitive principles on which people interact with computers, both via writing software and as can end-user of computer programs.

Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand - A really wonderful read on viewing computation as a medium, rather than a set of tools. As such, working with computational media is “practicing personal knowledge, and producing visual artifacts that, although not material, are nevertheless products of the hands, eyes, and mind.”

Supersizing the Mind - Andy Clark’s book on embodied condition, while not related to HCI directly, is an important work in that it articulates the argument that condition does not just happen inside our heads, but as part of our interaction with the world around us, including the objects and tools we use while working and thinking. The way we use interact with computers should reflect this - not as static screens, but as dynamic interfaces involving physical objects and the spatial area we inhabit.

Where The Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction - Another work on embodied cognition in which Paul Dourish addresses the philosophical underpinnings of Human-Computing Interaction - how we so often interact with systems in a disembodied, rational manner; rather than a way in engaging with software through skilled and engaged practice.

Tools For Thought - Howard Rheingold’s book chronicles the computer revolution, but starting with Boole, Babbage, and von Neumann. The focus on the book is how these pioneers saw the potential of computers to be able to amplify human thought and creativity, and be a force for amplifying the potential of humanity.

The Best Interface is No Interface - Golden Krishna’s critical work on the state of our interfaces makes the point that “screens have taken over our lives”, and that so many pieces of software are addictive rather than assistive. Krishna makes the case for interfaces to be less visual, period; and to slip into the background until we need them - rather than constantly at the forefront of our visual attention.

The Dream Machine - Stripe Press' reprint of M. Mitchel Waldrop’s text on J.C.R. Licklider, the leader of ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon department that was the precursor to the modern DARPA). The book chronicles Licklider’s role in creating a community of researchers and supporting them as they worked on building the foundational technologies for the computer revolution. It also includes copies of some of his memos and essays exhorting the potential of computers for creation and communication.

Computer Lib / Dream Machines - A reprint of Ted Nelson (who coined the term Hypertext)’s classic manifesto articulating a belief in the creative possibilities of computers, and an exhortation to its readers that “You Can And Must Understand Computers NOW!”

Dealers of Lightning - A history of Xerox PARC, the research lab that where so much of modern computing was invented, including the Graphical User Interface, Object-Oriented Programming, Ethernet, Laser Printing, WYSIWYG (“What You See is What You Get”) text editing, and bitmap graphics.

People and Papers

Douglas Englebart, the engine behind the Mother of All Demos and the inventor of the mouse; wrote several important papers, including Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework and A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man’s Intellect. A full list of his papers can be found here.

Alan Kay was a research scientist at Xerox PARC, where he worked on the Dynabook, a notebook sized personal computer that was focused on children, as well as SmallTalk; an Object-Oriented Programming Language. Some of his most important papers include:

Bill Buxton, a chief research scientist at Xerox PARC and Microsoft Research, has a website with a wealth of resources on Human-Computer Interaction, including his research papers. Buxton has written extensively on interactive graphical systems, computer music, input devices, and UI design.. Additionally, Microsoft hosts the Buxton Collection, an online gallery of input devices and interactive systems that Buxton has collected and catalogued over the years.

Bret Victor is a researcher who has prototyped and written extensively about interactive, dynamic programming simulations and tools. He maintains an extensive collection of primary-source reference materials on his website here. His essays and talks often include a live demo component that illustrate the ideas and concepts he’s discussing. Bret also has an extremely impressive bookshelf - someone once took the time to catalog its contents from a photo he posted to Twitter here.