Human-Computer Interaction and Web Design

Alan Dix1,2 and Nadeem Shabir2

1 Computing Department, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
2 Talis, Birmingham, UK

Chapter 3 in Handbook of Human Factors in Web Design, second edition. Kim-Phuong L. Vu and Robert W. Proctor (eds). CRC Press. ISBN: 1439825947


On a web site for a U.K. airline there are two pull-down menus, one for U.K. departure airports and the other for non-U.K. destinations.  When you select a departure airport the destination menu changes so that only those with flights from the chosen departure airport are shown in the second menu.  So if you live particularly close to a single airport you can easily ask "where can I fly to from here?"

However, you may be willing to travel to an airport and what you really want to know is how to get to a particular destination such as "where can I fly from in order to get to Faro?"  The web site did not support this.  You can select the second menu first, but the first list does not change, all the options are there, and, as soon as you select anything in the first list, your selected destination disappears and you are back to the full list.

Now, in retrospect it seems like common sense that it is reasonable to want to ask "how do I get to Faro?", but the designer simply thought logically: 'from' then 'to'.  The execution was technically flawless.  Many similar sites fail completely on some browsers due to version-specific scripts.  This worked well, but did the wrong thing.  The site was well designed aesthetically and technically, but failed to deliver an experience that matched what a reasonable user might expect.  Even more surprising is that this problem was present at the time of the first edition of this book and is still there.  Since then the website has been redesigned, and the appearance of the menus has changed, but the behavior is the same.

Human-Computer Interaction is about understanding this sort of situation and about techniques and methods that help avoid these problems.  The adjective most closely linked to HCI is 'usability'.  However it often has almost Taylorist* overtones of efficiency and time and motion studies.  This is not the only aspect that matters, and there are three 'use' words that capture a more complete view of HCI design.  The things we design must be:

users get what they need – functionality
users can do these things easily and effectively
users actually do start and continue to use it

Technical design has tended to be primarily focused on the first of these and HCI on the second. However, the third is also crucially important. No matter how useful or usable it is, if a system is not used then it is useless.

For an artifact to be used it often needs to be attractive, to fit within organizational structures, and to motivate the user.  For this reason, the term 'user experience' is often used rather than 'usability', especially in web design, emphasising the holistic nature of human experience. We will look at some of these issues in more detail for the web later in this chapter.

The remainder of this chapter is split into three main parts. First, in section 3.2, we will consider the context of the web, some of the features that make applications designed for the web special. Then, in section 3.3 we will look at the nature of human–computer interaction itself as an academic and design discipline: its roots, development, links to other disciplines, and at a typical HCI design process and the way different techniques and methods contribute to it. Many of the human design issues of web design can be seen as 'special cases' of more general usability issues and can be tackled by the general HCI design process. However, as we discuss in section 3.2, there are special features of the web, and so in section 3.4 we discuss a few more particular HCI issues for the web. Of course, this whole book is about human factors and the web, and some issues are covered in detail in other chapters; hence the latter part of the chapter tries to complement these. This chapter concludes with a brief view of the directions in which HCI is developing within the context of the web and related networked and mobile technologies.



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* Taylorism
Frederick Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911, a seminal work that introduced a philosophy of management focused on efficient production.  Taylorism has come to represent  a utilitarian approach to the workforce including practices such as time and motion studies (Taylor, 1911; Thompson, 2003).


Fig 3.1. Airport selection on a Web site.


Fig 3.9. A virtual fridge door on the Web   |   zoom image



Work gathered for this chapter was originally supported by a number of sources including the UK EPSRC funded projects EQUATOR ( and DIRC (

Several illustrations are taken with permission from Human-Computer Interaction, Third Edition, A. Dix, J. Finlay, G. D. Abowd, and R. Beale, Prentice-Hall, 2004.

Alan Dix 14/4/2010