PSU Tech Comm Meetup Learns About: The Intersections of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Technical Communication

What is HCI and how does it intersect with technical communication?

By Marta Yousif

Guest speaker Dr. Ellie Harmon, a professor for the Computer Science Department at PSU, defines Human computer interaction (HCI) as the experience a user has with technology in any capacity. It is an interdisciplinary space utilizing different fields to create a positive and effective user experience.


HCI implements Fitts Law and Hicks Law as basis of evaluating and solving a potential user issue.

Fitts Law regards human movement in which the accessibility, simplicity, and amount of time it takes to reach and hit the target is measured. In terms of technology, this can be an example of a button on your phone. Is the button large enough to locate on the screen? And is the button large enough to click without the need of complete user accuracy? Fitts Law takes into account the movement predictability of users to ensure the target will be used with ease and efficiency.

Hicks Law regards the amount of time it takes an individual to make a decision. If there is an overwhelming amount of options on a single page a user may have a difficult time choosing an option and inevitably take longer to make a decision. An example of Hicks Law at work is in menu options. Many menu options provide eight base options for a user to decide from. Once that first decision has been made, more options will be given. These bite-sized categories allow users less to consider at one time, allowing for decisions to ultimately be made quickly and more efficiently.  

Observation has also been one of the largest basis of information when attempting to understand the way a user thinks. Through observation, technical writers/communicators can see HCI in action and gain an understanding of what they may not see as a missing user function. The ability to gain a user’s perspective allows for the user insight needed to create a positive user experience.

HCI is a process in which all different specializations come together to evaluate, synthesize, and implement observations to better a user’s experience with technology. For more information on user experience visit:


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