A person typing on a laptop while wearing what appears to be a cap for virtual and augmented reality sensors around his head. Another person's arm is pointing at the laptop on the top part of the photo.
PHOTO: NYC Media Lab

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), a practice as old as the personal computer, studies how people interact with computers in order to enhance the technology experience. Today, research like HCI can be helpful for marketers and advertisers that want to serve relevant, personalized content experiences and ultimately make money from those interactions. 

We spoke with experts and practitioners and asked them to share their thoughts on HCI principles, history, evolution into user experience (UX) design principles, how it’s played a role with facial and eye tracking developments and how marketers and customer experience professionals can potentially take advantage.

HCI Principles

So what is HCI at its core and why does it matter to marketers? The good news for marketers, research in this field is no longer restricted to computers themselves, HCI covers almost all forms of information technology design, according to the Interaction Design Foundation (IDF). IDF researchers report that the main principles at play here for human-computer interaction are computer science, human factors engineering and cognitive science. 

Initially, HCI researchers wanted to make desktop computers easier to use, according to the IDF, but it now has ventured into the realm of the internet and mobile-device world. “HCI expanded from desktop office applications to include games, learning and education, commerce, health and medical applications, emergency planning and response, and systems to support collaboration and community,” John M. Carroll, author and a founder of the field of HCI, wrote in the IDF research. Carroll added HCI now includes interaction techniques and devices, multi-modal interactions, tool support for model-based user interface specification, and handheld and context-aware interactions.” And that brings us to where HCI studies can be helpful to marketers.

Related Article: Keep Your Thinking Machines, I'll Take Human-Computer Interaction Any Day

How HCI Evolved into UX Design

Marketers probably are more familiar with UX design than HCI. And that’s good news because IDF reports that HCI has evolved into UX design, essentially. “HCI is a broad field which overlaps with areas such as user-centered design, user interface design and user experience design,” according to the report by IDF. Essentially, it explains that in a number of ways, HCI was the predecessor of UX design.

We covered the principles of UX design extensively here. According to Wikipedia, modern models of HCI focus on a “constant feedback and conversation between users, designers and engineers and push for technical systems to be wrapped around the types of experiences users want to have, rather than wrapping user experience around a completed system.”

Related Article: What Is User Experience (UX) Design?

HCI Examples

So how are marketers putting the principles of HCI into action? Facial tracking technologies are a prime example of how marketers and customer experience professionals are serving up content and general experiences to prospects and customers. Here are some examples.

Order Burgers With Your Face 

Companies like Caliburger have systems at the sales-execution point that allow customers to order food using facial recognition technology

Check Into Hotels With Your Face

Shiji Group, a network solutions provider for hotels, has teamed up with Fliggy, a travel service of Alibaba, for a hotel check-in experience powered by facial recognition. How does it work? Shiji Distribution Solutions processes the transactions to the hotel's property management system leveraging Shiji's integration of hotel solutions. Hotel guests arrive at check-in and scan their ID at the kiosk. The new solution then verifies the ID against a Public Security System, performs a credit authorization and produces the room card. Officials claim it takes 30 seconds from arrival to room card issued including payment authorization.

Kiosks for Mall Shoppers a Privacy Invasion?

Not all consumers are onboard with facial recognition. Some mall directories in Calgary that include cameras and facial recognition software upset some shoppers, according to a report from CTV News Calgary. One mall shopper called it unethical and was upset she wasn’t made aware they were recording her face. 

Officials from Cadillac Fairview, the parent company of the Chinook Centre where the cameras were planted in the kiosks, told CTV, “The cameras in our digital directories are there to provide traffic analysis to help us understand usage patterns and continuously create a better shopper experience. These cameras do not record or store any photo or video content.” The officials said the cameras estimate ages and genders in order to provide traffic analysis and usage patterns that will assist with the creation of a better shopping experience, according to the TV news station report.

Related Article: What Are Behavioral Biometrics and How Do They Fit into Marketing?

All About the Database Connection

Laura Miller, director of business development for KioWare, which provides support for facial recognition devices, said that from a kiosk perspective marketers and customer experience professionals can use the technology with an existing database or to capture and assign user preferences to a particular person; again, via a database. Personalized kiosks have already been deployed that allow the kiosk to recognize an individual and pull up their preferences, she added. Additional options for kiosks would be to serve content based on the characteristics of a user (male/female, old/young, etc). “This kind of targeted content can increase user interactivity with the kiosk,” Miller said, “and therefore improve conversions without capturing individual identifying information.”

The conversation about facial recognition and marketing capabilities will largely involve, according to Miller, interactive and responsive digital signage and kiosk deployments as a way to utilize and integrate this technology in real time.

Where HCI Plays a Role in Eye-Tracking

HCI also goes beyond facial recognition and moves into eye-tracking technologies. 

Mobile ad network Kargo partnered with MediaScience for a study across a variety of ad formats and brands, using techniques like eye-tracking and biometric response. Some results include:

  • Video units were significantly more likely to be considered disruptive, intrusive or annoying than the standard or animated advertising units. Yet, they were also significantly more creative, engaging or entertaining.
  • Animated units outperformed both standard units and video units in brand recall. Of those exposed to the animated units, 42 percent correctly recalled the advertiser they were shown, while the standard and video units were equally effective and recalled by only 32 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
  • Time onscreen doesn't mean users looked at the units. The animated units captured the most visual attention: 74 percent of users looked at the animated units, while 64 percent looked at the standard units and 54 percent looked at the video units.
Related Article: The Brave New World of Technology: What Comes After the Bots

HCI Helps Contextualize Messages for Marketers

“Many companies these days are utilizing eye-tracking software to optimize the visual aspects of their page designs,” said Nate Masterson, CMO of Maple Holistics. “The research is based on tracking where the eye goes on any given landing page. The goal is to direct the eyes to the calls-to-action. Thanks to eye-tracking technology, we have yet another way to test every version of a landing page. We can even make better guesses as to where they’ll work best.”

Peter Minnium, president of Ipsos US, wrote a column for MarTech Today saying that brands need HCI to “contextualize — and act on — this sea of information” as they try to communicate with effective messages across many devices. He cited video on-demand platforms like iFlix that record time elapsed between interactions. Facebook, he noted, can identify relevant targeted customers and prospects through advanced text and image analysis. “It may seem as though these new data tools diminish the role of agencies and market researchers,” Minnium wrote, “but the truth is that their ability to contextualize information is only growing in importance. Knowing how users interact with content and advertising is meaningless if we don’t understand why.”