Human–Computer Interaction
as it was, as it is, and as it may be

Alan Dix
Lancaster University

Distinguished Lecture Series at St Andrews, Scotland, 6th November 2008.

download slides (PDF), at 2 slides per page (2up) or 6 slides per page (6up, smaller, but less paper):
lecture 1: Whose Computer Is It Anyway? slides 2up (1.1Mb) slides 6up (494Kb)
lecture 2: The Great Escape slides 2up (1.3Mb) slides 6up (502Kb)
lecture 3: Connected, but Under Control? Big, but Brainy? slides 2up (1.6Mb) slides 6up (922Kb)

Full reference:
A. Dix (2008). Human–Computer Interaction: as it was, as it is, and as it may be. Distinguished Lecture Series at St Andrews, Scotland, 6th November 2008.
Try it yourself:
play with Snip!t
virtual cracker send a virtual cracker or use the crackers app on FaceBook

computer in chains
for 20 years the computer is
chained to the office desktop
(image © Matt Oppenheim)

computer escaping on mototbike
... now escapes: out into the world,
spreading across the net, in the home,
in our social lives
(image © Matt Oppenheim)

FireFly lights on a Chritsmas tree
FireFly - one thousand computers on a Christmas tree

Three talks about aspects of Human–Computer Interaction

Whose Computer Is It Anyway?

Computers only exist because they do things for people.

In that sense there is no computation that is not to some extent directly or indirectly part of human–computer interaction. Sometimes the computer is so buried in automatic systems that this human connection can be ignored, but for the majority of computer systems that today's students are likely to be working on during their careers, the impacts on the user are at the heart of what it means to be effective. For most of the current generation of computer users, the image of using a computer is will be centred around the graphical user interface of windows and icons, and the metaphorical 'desktop' set upon a real desktop somewhere.

In this first lecture I will discuss some of the well known, and less known origins of the graphical interface and also the now established methods of design and evaluation, supporting software architectures, and techniques for formal analysis.

The Great Escape

Increasingly the computer is escaping both the office desktop and the desktop interface.

For half the world's population in China, the Indian subcontinent and Africa, it is likely that their primary, and maybe only, means of accessing the global world of information and computation will be through a phone. In our own homes we interact with computers in the kitchen living room and even bathroom, and even when we feel we are in the contained world of a traditional desktop computer sitting on a desktop, still the computation spills out across the internet. Computation has no physical bounds and human interaction with information and computation is dispersed throughout our world and our lives.

In this second lecture we will see how research in human-computer interaction is addressing these challenges in areas such as mobile interfaces, ubiquitous computing and social networking.

Connected, but Under Control? Big, but Brainy?

Our academic work, our social life, even our personal memories live not only in our computers, but out in the 'cloud'. And out there the whole web of human information is becoming linked data, semantically defined and interconnected. This same web has the information capacity and the computational power of a human brain, and yet often seems more like a giant haystack than an intelligent aid.

In this last lecture I will present some of the work I have been personally involved with that seeks to extract structure from informal human data and reason in a more humane way using highly structured formal data. I will draw on both academic and commercial experience in constructing web interfaces that allow the strengths of human and computer intelligence to work together. We will see how personal ontologies could help computers help us, and perhaps soon to reason over the whole web ... just to help you order a pizza.

Additional reading

General Human-Computer Interaction

HCI book coverMy own book of course!

Also look at the book web site resources especially the chapter 4 web links.

Two short articles about the development of scrollbars:

Ubiquity, user experience and the web

Loads of stuff at the Equator project web site.

FireFly lightRead more about FireFly ... a computer for every LED and the new medium of dgital light. But no papers yet

  • A. Dix & L. Cowen (2007). HCI 2.0? Usability meets Web 2.0, (Panel). In Procedings of BCS HCI 2007, People and Computers XXI, Volume 2, BCS eWiC
  • A. Dix and R. Cyganiak (2008). Using the Web of Data. keynote at WOD-PD 2008 | Web of Data Practitioners Days, Vienna, Austria - Oct 22-23, 2008.
  • H. Khalid and A. Dix (2006). When Heat Meets Warhol! At Photo Technologies & Interspaces seminar, 25th April 2008, Lancaster, UK.

numbers and cognition

see also my various essays on imagination, rationality, etc.

aQtive onCue

The theoretical roots of aQtive onCue are described on the archived aQtive web site's research pages and there is also an (incomplete) bibliography.

The best references are:

  • A. Dix, R. Beale and A. Wood (2000).
    Architectures to make Simple Visualisations using Simple Systems. Proceedings of Advanced Visual Interfaces - AVI2000, ACM Press, pp. 51-60.
    describes onCue architecture and use in desktop visualisation
  • A. Dix (1999).
    onCue "how it works". aQtive technical paper. html || pdf
    A. Dix (1999).
    aQtiveSpace "how it works". aQtive technical paper. html || pdf
    scenario-based architecture documentation of onCue an the underlying component infrastructure



Use it online at

The project where the idea originated:

But note the observation that people wanted to bookmark portions of web pages was NOT part of the project aims. Although focus is important during research, it is also worth keeping an eye out for other things they sometimes end up being more significant than what you are looking for!

Snip!t is decribed in a number of papers including:

  • A. Dix, T. Catarci, B. Habegger, Y. Ioannidis, A. Kamaruddin, A. Katifori, G. Lepouras, A. Poggi, D. Ramduny-Ellis (2006). Intelligent context-sensitive interactions on desktop and the web. Proceedings of the international Workshop in Conjunction with AVI 2006 on Context in Advanced Interfaces. (Venice, Italy, May 23, 2006), ACM Press , pp. 23-27
    abstract and paper | ACM DOI
  • A. Dix (2008). Tasks = data + action + context: automated task assistance through data-oriented analysis. keynote at Engineering Interactive Systems 2008 , (incorporating HCSE2008 & TAMODIA 2008), Pisa Italy, 25-26 Sept. 2008 .
    abstract and links

Folksonomy mining

  • A. Dix, S. Levialdi and A. Malizia (2006). Semantic Halo for Collaboration Tagging Systems. in Proceedings of Workshop sheld at the Fourth Interbnational Conference on Adaptive Hypermedia and Adaptive Web-Based Systems (AH2006), S. Weibelzahl and A. Cristea (eds.) - Workshop on Social Navigation and Community-Based Adaptation Technologies, Lecture Notes in Learning and Teaching, Dublin: National College of Ireland. pp. 514-521

Personal ontologies and spreading activation

  • Katifori, A., Vassilakis, C., Daradimos, I., Lepouras, G., Ioannidis, Y., Dix, A., Poggi, A., Catarci, T.: Personal Ontology Creation and Visualization for a Personal Interaction Management System. In: Workshop on The Disappearing Desktop: Personal Information Management 2008. CHI2008, (2008) [PDF]
  • Sauermann, L.: The Gnowsis Semantic Desktop for Information Integration. In: The 3rd Conference on Professional Knowledge Management, pp. 39–42 (2005)
  • Katifori, A., Vassilakis, C., Dix, A.: Using Spreading Activation through Ontologies to Support Personal Information Management. In: Common Sense Knowledge and Goal-Oriented Interfaces (CSKGOI 2008) (workshop at 2008 International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI 2008). CEUR Workshop Proceedings Vol 323 (2008).
  • Anderson, J.: A spreading activation theory of memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 22, 261–295 (1983)



Alan Dix 8/11/2008