Book title: Sparks of Innovation in Human Computer Interaction

Ablex, 1993, ISBN 1-56750-079-X

Andrew Dillon

This item is not the definitive copy. Please use the following citation when referencing this material: Dillon, A. (1994) Review of B. Shneiderman (ed.) Sparks of Innovation in HCI. LISR, 16(3), 268-269.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is a rapidly developing field addressing the design, evaluation and use of information technology from the user’s perspective. Growing out ergonomics’ concern with system design in general and computer science’s realisation that the information revolution was stumbling for human rather than technological reasons, HCI has in recent times given birth to several major journals and numerous international conferences on the subject.

The present volume is a timely reflection on the activities of the discipline, seen through the eyes of one of the foremost academics in the field. Ben Shneiderman, Head of the HCI Laboratory at the University of Maryland, marks the 10th anniversary of his group by collecting together over 20 of the many papers published by him and his team and trimming them where necessary into a unique account of the last 10 years of HCI research.

That it works as a book is testimony both to the original work and to Shneiderman’s powers of selection. It would have been easy to have produced a stream of chapters with little in common except the affiliation of the authors but Shneiderman has worked thematically, exploring HCI’s history through topics such as direct manipulation (a descriptor for an interactive style that came to be inextricably tied to his name), hypertext, information visualization, menu selection etc. The result is a neat and informative synopsis of the Maryland work in HCI which, with its emphasis on empirical testing and refinement of emerging user interface techniques, is both appealing and useful to old hands and new students of the field.

Given the selection criteria of such a book, there are some gaps in coverage. Work on programming languages (surprising, given the editor’s record), expert systems, process control or organizational impact for example is not covered so the book cannot really be seen as a primer in HCI for the uninitiated although in many other ways it would serve such a purpose admirably. The reliance on papers that have already been published, often in peer reviewed journals, ensures a high standard of contribution throughout and little by way of self-congratulation that one might have expected of an “anniversary” text.

Personally I cut my teeth as a graduate student on several of the early papers reproduced here and remember attending some of the presentations of the conference papers included, so pleasant memories are evoked by this collection (and what ever happened to pie menus anyway?). That one can feel sentimental over a collection that only dates back to the early 1980s is indicative of the rapid growth of this field (even if it does appear churlish to remark that my own organisation could produce a similar account that would date back a further 15 years! ). To read Shneiderman on technology and human values, advocating the taking of responsibility for design decisions is, in the final analysis, justification enough for me to recommend this book to anyone with a even a limited curiousity about this interdisciplinary activity.