I am convinced that technology has to respond to human needs. We alter our environment to build solutions that will make our life easier, safer and more comfortable. We build technology that allow us, as humans, to concentrate on what we do best: think, create and plan.
I landed on Human Computer Interaction (HCI) from the Engineering ladder. My first approach was to start developing new tools aimed at improving the interaction; I was not sure if people actually needed Tangible User Interfaces (TUI), but it was fun to model, build and study them. But that question kept bugging me, are TUIs really better? Why? During my PhD I had the opportunity of exploring that question, and I had the fortune of exploring different branches, from social sciences to ethnography, of HCI to formulate an answer to that questions. By the way, the answer is: it depends.
After having the fortune of working on several branches of HCI, I must say that User Experience (UX) is my favourite. UX is about the interaction between humans and technology: It is about the task that user is trying to achieve in a given environment. It is about understanding the user, the task and the context, and then proposing a technological solution.
Creating technology for technology sake is important. It provides tools and "solutions" for problems that are not yet known. However, technology is only useful when it is addressing human needs and enhancing human abilities.
I work on HCI because I enjoy helping to improve the overall experience of each of us trying to do our everyday tasks. Because I enjoy understanding human needs and which abilities need to be enhanced to provide solutions. And to understand the human we need data, quantitative and qualitative data. We need data that comes from interviews, observations, surveys, experiments. We need to data to understand each of them and generalise to build a stronger and better understanding. Once we understand we look at how technology can help us to solve that need, and we go back to the user to make sure we are on the right path, that the generalisation we made is actually making sense when we go back to the individual.
As a final note, I do not use "user" and "human" interchangeably. A user is a subset of a human, when I am in the process of understanding needs I need to focus on humans. When I am building solutions, I need to focus on the user, because I need to make the problem treatable, I need to make assumptions and focus on the common elements of the majority.
There are many methods to do what I do: Contextual Design, Design Thinking, Human Factors Engineering, Human Centered Design. UX Design, etc. Each of them have their virtues and help practitioners and academics to understand how to build solutions. But at heart I summarise it as follows:
First, we need to understand the human, the task and the context. To do it, we need quantitative and qualitative data. Then, we build together with the user a solution.