Chapter 6: Interfaces

Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials


The main aims of this chapter are to:

  • Provide an overview of the many different kinds of interfaces.
  • Highlight the main design and research issues for each of the interfaces.
  • Discuss the difference between graphical (GUIs) and natural user interfaces (NUIs).
  • Consider which interface is best for a given application or activity.


Until the mid-1990s, interaction designers concerned themselves largely with developing efficient and effective user interfaces for desktop computers aimed at the single user. This involved working out how best to present information on a screen such that users would be able to perform their tasks, including determining how to structure menus to make options easy to navigate, designing icons and other graphical elements to be easily recognized and distinguished from one another, and developing logical dialog boxes that are easy to fill in. Advances in graphical interfaces, speech, gesture and handwriting recognition, together with the arrival of the Internet, smartphones, wireless networks, sensor technologies, and an assortment of other new technologies providing large and small displays, have changed the face of human-computer interaction. During the last decade, designers have had many more opportunities for designing user experiences. The range of technological developments has encouraged different ways of thinking about interaction design and an expansion of research in the field. For example, innovative ways of controlling and interacting with digital information have been developed that include gesture-based, touch-based, and even brain-computer interaction. Researchers and developers have combined the physical and digital in novel ways, resulting in mixed realities, augmented realities, tangible interfaces, and wearable computing. A major thrust has been to design new interfaces that extend beyond the individual user: supporting small- and large-scale social interactions for people on the move, at home, and at work.

There is now a diversity of interfaces. The goal of this chapter is to consider how to design interfaces for different environments, people, places, and activities. We present a catalog of 20 interface types, starting with command-based and ending with brain-computer. For each one, we present an overview and outline the key research and design concerns. Some are only briefly touched upon while others - that are more established in interaction design - are described in more depth. It should be stressed that the chapter is not meant to be read from beginning to end but dipped into to find out about a particular type of interface.