Human Computer Interaction
ERCIM News No.46, July 2001 [contents]

HCI Research at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

by Alistair Sutcliffe

HCI research in UMIST covers a wide area of the discipline and has the unique flavour of integrating usability engineering within a wider view of systems design and software engineering. The Interactive Systems Design group combines researchers in both software engineering, human computer interaction, linguistics, psychology and sociology giving it a unique capability for synthesising multi-disciplinary research contributions to advance basic science and the design process in socio-technical systems engineering.

The group’s mission is to improve the design process of complex social technical systems for business effectiveness and enhanced quality of life, by developing methods and tools from a sound theoretical base. The Interactive Systems Design group is composed of two units, the Centre for HCI Design and the Centre for Expertise in electronic Commerce.

The Centre for HCI Design conducts a wide spectrum of research in two themes: cognitive engineering applied to interactive technologies (virtual reality, multimodality, multimedia) across a range of application areas (information retrieval, safety critical systems, distributed working and assistive systems) and requirements engineering including methods and tools for scenario based RE, requirements acquisition, collaboration in the RE process, theories of domain knowledge, reuse and component-based software engineering. Other interests are HCI theories of interaction, information extraction, knowledge representation, natural language processing, design of ubiquitous and mobile systems, analysis of multimodal communication in collaborative systems, and design of assertive systems for users with cognitive impairments, learning difficulties and blindness. Recent significant achievements have been research programme providing a significant input to the ISO 14915 standard on multimedia user interface design, and development of scenario based requirements analysis method which have been adopted by industry.

The Centre for Expertise in electronic Commerce and the eCommerce design group researches methods and tools to improve the design of web based systems. Interests range from surveys and experimental studies to understand the attractiveness of commercial web sites and the design features that influence people’s attention and purchasing behaviour. Design guidelines have been developed to enhance the persuasiveness of eCommerce web sites. Other interests are development of smart card technology for customer profiling and personalised user interfaces, and investigating how smart card technology can make security more acceptable to users. The Centre collaborates closely with industry on a range of projects that create an integrated approach to the eCommerce design problem, eg starting with business modelling to develop Internet technology strategy, requirements analysis methods for site development and customer profiling, usability guidance for web site design, to architectures and tools for web site development. Recent achievements include development of a requirements capture method based on multidisciplinary product teams adopted by ICL in their ‘Marketing to Design’ programme and widely applied within other organisations and the Centre’s role in developing competitive advantage for regional eCommerce has been recognised by DTI minister Patricia Hewitt.

Funded projects within the ISD group reflect the central theme of design of social technical systems. The EPSRC SI programme SIMP (Systems Integration for Major Projects) in collaboration with BAESystems is investigating three main themes: assessment of performance of socio-technical systems against a set of operational scenarios; modelling the communication, interaction and effectiveness of intelligent technology in socio-technical systems, and developing methods for generating scenarios for requirements validation in complex systems. The requirements engineering theme continues in the EPSRC ISRE (Immersive Scenario based Requirements Engineering) project which is investigating methods for requirements engineering with virtual prototypes, a taxonomy of scenarios to configure virtual environments and prototypes for testing, and design guidelines for development of VR toolkits for collaborative requirements analysis. The EPSRC CORK (CORporate Knowledge for requirements engineering) project is developing methods for assessing and designing inter-organisational relationships and requirements for supporting computer technology. The theories of transaction costs and value chains are being extended to create a method for analysing the complex inter-organisational relationships and business processes, transactions, and system requirements for virtual companies and alliances. A scenario-based method identifies system requirements to support business processes and enhances reuse of business knowledge and design experience held in corporate memories. The EU funded DUMAS project is developing information extraction tools and speech technology for mobile systems, so users can interact remotely with complex databases.

In the eCommerce and Internet research the EPSRC funded project Human factors in the design of Electronic Service Delivery Systems for use in complex environments aims to inform the development and assessment of interactive electronic service delivery systems for use in complex environments, where user choice exists and where the influence of social and physical factors impact on usage and usage decisions. This project is a collaboration with the Manchester Federal School of Business and Management. The DTI/EPSRC Teaching Company Scheme—Customer relationship management through streaming media and VOIP technologies- collaborates with a local industry to support development of e-business via a more customer focused service with online help facilities and personalisation of the shopping experience. As a result of utilising VOIP and multimedia streaming technologies, the project aims to improve visit-sale conversion rates, increase repeat business, and increase the value per sale.


Please contact:
Alistair Sutcliffe — University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 161 200 3315