Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)


Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), also known as Man-Machine Interaction (MMI) is the study of how humans and their computers or equipment interact.

Understanding HCI is critical not only for the safety of the direct user, but for those who may be affected by any incident. Badly designed human-computer/machine interfaces have been attributed to many accidents, including the 1979 meltdown of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in the United States.

How does HCI differ to Human Factors?

Human-Computer Interaction has been considered to be different to the area of Human Factors simply due to HCI focusing solely upon how the human and the computer interacts. Human factors involves how the human interacts with other equipment (such as aircraft) and also physiological factors influencing human performance. HCI could be considered to be part of human factors that specialises in the interaction between humans and computers.

However, in recent years, the definition of HCI has become less specific and now encompasses Man-Machine Interaction (MMI) so it is now much more closely correlated with the area of human factors.

How does HCI differ to Ergonomics?

HCI also differs to the area of ergonomics. Ergonomics focuses more upon the design of the equipment and making it more physically usable for the human, known as ergonomization. HCI considers the cognitive rather than physical side of human-machine interaction (such as decision making).

Application in Aviation

With safety being one of the most important objectives in aviation, the study of Human-Computer Interaction is crucial to maintaining a high standard of safety. Poor human-machine interface design has been implicated in aviation accidents such as Air Canada Flight 143 which was partly caused due to pilot error with the cockpit Fuel Quantity Indicator System (FQIS).

With ‘Next-Generation’ aircraft being developed, cockpit technology is advancing beyond manual gauges into glass cockpits. Therefore HCI must have great emphasis placed upon it in order for the design of user-friendly software and displays. This will decrease the likelihood of pilot error and therefore increase the level of safety in the cockpit.

1. Hewett, T. H., Baecker, R., Card, S., Carey, T., Gasen, J., Mantei, M., Perlman, G., Strong, G., & Verplank, W. (2009). ACM SIGCHI Curricula for Human-Computer Interaction. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
2. Wikipedia. (2010a). Human-computer interaction. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from
3. Wikipedia. (2010b). Gimli Glider. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from

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