HCI approach in SPHERE

The ultimate goal of SPHERE is to accelerate market uptake and social acceptance of BIM technologies -and in particular the concept of the Digital Twin- in order to help promote standards and policies that paves the way for a more extended use of ICT-tools in building design, construction and operations.

The success of the project comes from the achievement of a usable system that benefits target users by improving their job tasks whether they are dedicated to designing, managing or constructing. Usable systems are easy to learn and operate, thus helping and motivating users to interact and apply these types of systems in their job environment. Therefore, the design process of the different services to be provided by SPHERE must be supported by user-centred design methodologies, which will guarantee the accomplishment of a usable system achieving a high degree of usability. These types of methodologies imply the direct participation of target users in the design process from its very beginning, and also the intake of an iterative design lifecycle and/or an agile methodology. Thus the consortium must be aware of these necessary peculiarities of a modern approach that has been largely proved efficient. 

A central issue in HCI and UCD is that the design and evaluation stages are interleaving, highly iterative processes, with some roots in theory but which rely strongly on good practice to create usable products. Also as prospective users interaction with the SPHERE platform can be carried out in any device and in any space, it seems relevant to include UX during the design and specially the evaluation process. With the object of avoiding divergences and mismatches between software design approaches -such as UCD- and user satisfaction, it is necessary to present information about usability. The purpose is to facilitate integrating usability and user-centred design methods, as these fields are complementary, in order to maximise optimum product design.

Additionally it has to be considered that the relations between HCI, UX, UCD and usability are very close, and in some cases when designing a product they are negligible. However in the case of SPHERE, considering the complexity of the project aims, it is necessary to take into account the differences among those theoretical constructs and apply the tools and techniques associated to these methodologies that better suit the project objectives in order to achieve a highly functional and engaging product. 

HCI overview

Among these theoretical frameworks the project can be guided by Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) that has been defined as “designing computer systems that support people so that they can carry out their activities productively and safely” (Preece et all, 1994) and it is concerned with all those aspects that relate to the interaction between users and computer systems in general. It entails the design, evaluation and implementation of interactive computer systems for human use and the study of the phenomena surrounding them. Thus HCI principles can provide useful information on the design and developments of all kinds of systems where productivity and satisfaction are essential.

The main goals of HCI are to produce usable and safe systems, as well as functional systems. These goals can be summarised as “to develop or improve the safety, utility, effectiveness, efficiency and usability of systems that include computers”. Utility refers to the functionality of a system or, in other words, the things it can do. Improving effectiveness and efficiency are self-evident and objectives to be attain in all scenarios. Usability on the other side is a key concept in HCI, is concerned with making systems easy to learn and easy to use. 

All short of devices are subject to HCI principles. Success of a technology simply results from the easiness with which the user can interact with it. If the interface is poor or hard to use then the user will simply ignore the product or the technology (Mathew et al. 2011). A simple and easy way to use a system doesn’t mean that a simple technology is behind such a system, on the contrary, a well-advanced technology needed to build it. The most important concepts in HCI are functionality and usability. Services provided usually by a system are called functions. Usability is when a user utilises the system’s functions easily, properly and clearly. Functionality and usability may vary from one system to another. A system is said to be successful if there is a balance between both functionality and usability. 

Software systems should be designed for the needs and capabilities of the intended users and these intended users should not need to be aware of the intricacies of how to use a program neither the internal workings of the system.

Nowadays it is widely accepted that HCI has moved beyond designing computer systems for just one user sitting in front of one machine, consequently it is necessary to adapt to new technology developments and thus HCI include new interaction modes such as ubiquitous computing or pervasive computing that make use of wireless and collaborative technologies. HCI is an active, multifaceted, and methodologically diverse component of the domain that it studies, both following and directing technological innovation while at the same time examining the impact of these new technologies and applications been developed and guiding the development of further devices.

We have used this theoretical approach in SPHERE to achieve the highly sought after desired satisfaction and adoption.

Written by Fausto Sainz Salces from COMET