UCL News


Watch: Why buttons go bad

11 November 2010

A film by students at the UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC) explains in 100 seconds the importance of studying how humans interact with technology, to mark World Usability Day.

Mobile phone buttons

UCLIC's Dr Dominic Furniss and Dr Rachel Benedyk challenged students taking the MSc in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) with Ergonomics to make a short film to convey the concept of HCI to a young audience, as part of the centre's Design for Real People and Ergonomics4Schools public engagement activities.

The class favourite was a film created by MSc students Lucy Hughes, Alistair Wood, Jesper Garde, Tianbo Xu and Philipp Hund, which tackled the subject by focusing on the history of buttons - and why they go bad.

Click on the player below to watch the film

Dr Dominic Furniss, Researcher in Human-Computer Interaction, explained: "Human-Computer Interaction and Ergonomics focus on making technology more intuitive, user-friendly and a better experience. They touch our everyday lives. Digital alarms wake us up, medical devices help keep patients alive in hospitals, e-commerce sites are now an established part of our culture and economy, people find love online, we communicate via mobile phones, we are entertained through computer games and 3D movies, and Tweeting and Googling are familiar phrases in our modern world. Buttons, switches and clicks are everywhere!"

Dr Rachel Benedyk, Lecturer in Ergonomics at UCLIC, continued: "One of the biggest attractions to HCI is the chance to make an impact on a great breadth of today's technologies. Unfortunately we only really notice technology when it goes wrong, and people feel stupid and blame themselves. This is wrong. Many ticket machines could be designed better, many websites could be more intuitive, and forgetting attachments to emails could be designed away. It is not the fault of the user but the fact that better consideration should have been brought to the design.

"This year we challenged our students to make a short and engaging film to convey what HCI is to a young audience; part of our Design for Real People and Ergonomics4Schools public engagement activities. This was the class's favourite, which appeals to young and old alike. The film really surpassed our expectations given the short timeframe they had to create it, so they should be congratulated."

Philipp Hund, MSc student in Human-Computer Interaction with Ergonomics 2010-11, one of the creators of the film, said: "From the beginning of the course we were confronted with the interdisciplinary approach of Human-Computer Interaction as well as the intercultural setting at UCL. I have met students from 21 different nations and various academic backgrounds in my class.

"Such diversity is a unique chance but it can also be a challenge. Working together on a short film was a great opportunity to start exchanging different views and skills. 

Furthermore, many of us already have lots of practical experience in HCI design. Sometimes that can blur the vision on what the basic idea of HCI really is. Even though it might sound trivial at first, the task of explaining HCI to teenagers made us think a lot about those basic concepts and we found it a great way to start our year of study at UCL."

UCL context

The UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC) is a UK Centre of Excellence in Human-Computer Interaction and Ergonomics teaching and research. It prepares students with the theory, evaluation and design methods to help improve the technology of today and shape the technology of tomorrow.

UCLIC works with industry and the research community and draws on the best scientific traditions in Computer Science and the Human Sciences. It is the only UK HCI Centre with formal interdisciplinary support.