Profile of John M. Carroll, an HCI Developer

There have been many pioneers in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Of theses early developers, John M. Carroll stands out as having made a huge and lasting contribution to the field. Carroll himself writes that “Human-computer interaction (HCI) is an area of research and practice that emerged in the early 1980s, initially as a specialty area in computer science embracing cognitive science and human factors engineering.”1, and Carroll has been at the forefront of that research since it’s inception. In this profile I will discuss some of John M. Carroll’s career highlights and delve into the contributions he has made to HCI.

John M. Carroll is a faculty member in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology as well as being a Distinguished Professor and co-Director (with Professors Mary Beth Rosson) of the College of IST’s Laboratory for Computer Supported Collaboration and Learning and the Director of Penn State’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction.2 Carroll began his career in the most academic way, first by studying mathematics and computer science, but then moving into psychology and language. After completing his Ph.D he moved into doing research for IBM an founded the User Interface Institute. In 1994 he moved to Virginia Tech as the department head of computer science. Finally, in 2003 he moved to Penn State where he is Chair Professor of Information Sciences and Technology.3 Not only has John M. Carroll been a prolific educator and researcher, he has also written several books on the topic of HCI, two examples are Interfacing Thought: Cognitive Aspects of Human-Computer Interaction and Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millennium.4

In the early days of computing, up until the late 1970s, the only people who interacted with computers were information technology professionals and dedicated hobbyists. After the rise of personal computing, including both personal software and personal computer platforms, everyone in the world became a potential computer user. This highlighted the deficiencies of computers with respect to usability for those who wanted to use computers as tools.5 From those deficiencies rose the field of HCI, and Carroll was a key founder in that field of research. To solve the human interaction problem, Carroll developed 2 design strategies. In the early 1980s he developed the minimalist model for design, and in the late 1980s he developed scenario-based design.6 The minimalist model is supported by research that discovered that “users often suffer not from too little information support but from too much of the wrong kind of support.”7 and prescribes a type of design where only what the user needs to interact with is presented to them. His second research development, scenario-based design, states that “patterns of human activity should be a primary representation in the design of interactive systems”8. This is a more complex concept that, in essence, means that how a person is going to interact with any new system should be the primary focus of how that system is to be developed, by analyzing scenarios in which a person would need to use that system.9

These two contributions to the field of HCI have been major drivers in how new systems are designed for human use. Carroll has been instrumental in shaping the way humans interact with computers, and we owe to people like Carroll the productivity we currently derive from the ease of use of modern computer systems.

  3. ibid.
  7. ibid.
  8. ibid.