History of Human Computer Interaction

To make students aware of the intellectual and historical foundations of human computer interaction, a brief history of the early major breakthroughs in HCI are covered. Presentations are followed by historical videos, which the students greatly enjoy. Some are flabbergasted that many so-called "modern" ideas were implemented before they were born!


Topics Covered

Required Readings

  1. Readings in Human Computer Interaction: Towards the Year 2000 (2nd Edition)
    Baecker, R., Grudin, J., Buxton, W., and Greenberg, S. (1995).
    Morgan-Kaufmann, San Francisco, CA
    • Chapter 1: A Historical and Intellectual Perspective, p.35-47 gives an excellent overview of early advances in HCI.
    • Case B: The Emergence of Graphical User Interfaces, p.49-52, briefly highlights the progression of what are arguably the most important commercial systems to influence modern computing: the Xerox Star, the Apple Lisa, and the Apple Macintosh. \
    • The Xerox Star: A Retrospective, p.53-70, details the many important innovations in the Star user interface, as well as providing a history of how other systems influenced (and were influenced by) the Star.

In-Class Activities

This is mostly a lecture-style module. However, almost all lecture materials are brought to life by showing historical videos (see below); students are often amazed at what was done decades before they were born!

Additional Readings

  1. Pioneers and settlers: Methods used in successful user interface design. Card, S. (1996) In M. Rudisill, C. Lewis, P. Polson and T. McKay (eds) Human-Computer Interface Design: Success Stories, Emerging Methods, and Real-World Context, p122-169, Morgan-Kaufmann. Successful systems are reconsidered against a variety of design and evaluation methods as well as real deployment requirements.
  2. A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction Technology, Brad Myers.   Vol. 5, no. 2, March, 1998. pp. 44-54


  1. Sketchpad, by Sutherland (1983, SGVR 13) Sutherland's Sketchpad influenced graphics and graphical user interfaces.
  2. A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect, by Engelbart and English (1994, SGVR 106) Engelbart's visionary NLS system contains the essence of many of the ideas in modern interfaces.
  3. Xerox Star User Interface, by Smith and Irby (1983, SGVR 56) The Xerox Star was, of course, the first commercial product that we would consider "modern".
  4. Doing with Images Makes Symbols, by Kay (1987, University Video Communications) Kay, in the first half of his video, walks through the history of interfaces which include the Dynabook vision and the Alto.
  5. The Movie Manual, by MIT (1983, SVGR 13) The MIT Media Lab has an important place in history in terms of innovation and invention. This video illustrates a rich multimedia manual...
  6. Put That There, by MIT (1983, SVGR 13) ..While this MIT video illustrates a multimodal large screen display
  7. Apple's 1984 commercial is famous for the way it sets itself apart from IBM via a 'big brother' theme.

Major sources used to prepare lecture material

  1. All required and additional readings mentioned above contain a wealth of information about the history and evolution of HCI.
  2. Personal Recollections of the Apple MacIntosh Design, collected by Guy Kawasaki