In the future, technology will be interlinked increasingly with psychology. In human-centred design, users are a factor in the design of technology. Finland is playing an expanding role in the human development of mobile technology, in particular.
Psychology has been exploited in technology for a long time, but the perspectives have changed. The Second World War saw the start of attention to human errors, especially in air safety. This was the beginning of the development of research in many areas.
“The advent of computers brought the human-computer interaction (HCI) field, which attempts to understand the interaction between humans and machinery. User-centred design is one of the subareas of HCI,” says Sari Kujala, professor of psychology at the Tampere University of Technology’s Institute of Human Centred Technology.
PSYCHOLOGY FOR TECHNOLOGY
Practical design work has traditionally been the reponsibility of engineers, who have been trained to understand technology, but not human beings. The goal of Kujala and the institute is to bring a wider human perspective to design and use psychology more diversely in the develop- ment of technology.
“HCI is a multidisciplined field that has exploited cognitive psychology, that is, the psychology associated with a human’s processing of information,” Kujala emphasises.
User-centred design aims to guarantee the utility and usability of systems, products and services. Besides customer and user satisfaction, user-centred design has many measured benefits for companies.
Kujala says that human-centred technology is extremely well known in areas where safety is crucial, and psychologists are also used actively in personnel administration and recruitment.
“In information technology, the HCI field is still relatively young. A start has only just been made on training experts and many consulting companies have come on the scene,” says Kujala.
The institute is also focusing increasingly on human-centred design as a line of studies and new study courses are aimed at all students of technology.
With education focusing on human-centered design, design has also become more human. Thanks to the user centredness, products are easier and more pleasant to use and better suited to their purpose.
The US and the UK have been leading the way in user-centred design. Scandinavia is well known for the participatory approach of users in the field, in which users of a coming technology are included in the design, and Finland is making good progress, especially in mobile technology and exploiting psychology.
Kujala stresses: “Consumer attitudes are changing, too. When there are problems with technology, we no longer simply blame ourselves – we demand better design.”
MANY CLEAR BENEFITS
Although the situation is changing gradually, taking human-centred design to the practical product-development stage is still a chal- lenge.
“The perspective is still alien to engineers. In a tight product-development cyle, it’s difficult to leave enough time for human-centred design. Even companies ask whether it’s worth investing in human-centred design and what business benefits can be achieved with it.
“Tests have been able to show the tangible benefits of human-centred design. For example, user work efficiency increased by an average of 50%, the number of human errors fell by 25% and staff turnover went down by 10% to 20%.”
The Institute of Human Centred Technology will be starting the first course in human- centred design in autumn 2007.
Students will study skills in understanding human needs and modelling human activity in such a way that a new technology will give this activity better support. The study module will also deal with human emotion and motivation, group behaviour, interaction, consumer psychology, the psychology of aesthetics and creativity, and multicultural design.