CS 449: Human Computer Interaction

Term and Year of Offering: Spring 2014

Course Number and Title: CS449/CS649, Human-Computer Interaction


Professor Michael Terry (mterry@cs.uwaterloo.ca)
Office: DC 2118
Office hours: Tuesdays, 10:00-11:30AM

Course TA: Corona Luo
Office: DC 3591
Office hours: Fridays, 9:00-10:00AM

Meeting Time and Location
MC 4040
TR 8:30-9:50AM

Course Description

Human-Computer Interaction teaches the fundamental concepts necessary to create useful and usable computational artifacts. Over the term, students will learn how to design novel computational artifacts that enable a well-defined user group to achieve specific goals more effectively. More specifically, students will learn and directly apply:

This course defines computational artifacts quite broadly: A computational artifact could be a desktop computer, a mobile device, an application for an electronic whiteboard, a system embedded in one's clothing, and so on. The techniques taught in this class will apply equally well to the design and evaluation of all of these various forms of computation.

Course Objectives

After completing this course, students will have the skills and knowledge necessary to gather user requirements through interviews and observations; they will know how to model qualitative data using the modeling techniques of Contextual Design; they will have experience engaging in rapid, iterative prototyping; and they will know how to perform evaluations of their designs using common HCI evaluation techniques, such as think-aloud studies and heuristic evaluation. Finally, they will be exposed to the primary areas of research within HCI.

Course Overview

Required Text

Recommended Texts

All of the above titles will be on reserve in Davis Library.

Class Wiki

The class wiki is located at http://hci-courses.cs.uwaterloo.ca/cs449-s14. You must have an account to edit pages (account info will be given out in class). We will not use newsgroups -- email the prof or a TA with questions about the course or course content, or use the wiki to open up a discussion with the entire class.

Class, Assignments, Projects, and Exams

Human-computer interaction is best learned by practicing it. As such, there are individual assignments and a group project. The group project will have three primary components, including three public poster sessions. There is also a midterm and final.

The grade breakdown is as follows:

You must pass both the final and the group project; failure in either is grounds for failing the course. Please refer to the project overview to get a sense of what the project will entail.

Marking notes:

Available Equipment

Thanks to a generous grant from the Mathematics Endowment Fund (MEF), we have a rich set of equipment that can be used in support of prototying projects. Note that the technology is available should it match the needs of your project: You should not (and cannot) cater your project to a particular piece of technology; your projects must be needs-driven, rather than technology-driven.

The equipment we have is as follows:

Latest Changes


The following is a tentative syllabus. Specific lecture topics may vary.

Date Theme Readings Lecture Slides Deadlines

Overview of HCI

  • Prototypical HCI process
  • The challenge of designing usable technology

Course Overview

  • Logistics, expectations, marking, project

Goals, History of HCI

  • Goals of HCI
  • What HCI is, isn't
  • History of HCI
  • Paradigms of HCI

The $300 Million Button
Jared M. Spool

The Walmart Story

Dan Harmon's tutorials on script writing (note: the language may be offensive to some -- read around the dodgy bits and focus on the story structure he outlines):

  • Story Structure 101
  • Story Structure 103
  • (Optional, and only for those so inclined): Story Structure 104 provides more examples and details, but is definitely not an academic read (and not essential for the course)
History Wiki intro assignment

Observation assignment

Project: Create a project group page.

See project details to learn about the different types of groups we will form for this project.


Qualitative methods

  • Ethnography
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Methods, guidelines for conducting interviews
  • Importance of non-verbal behavior
  • Live interview demos
RCD: Chapter 3 Data Collection and Interviewing

Guest Lecturer: Julie Joza, Office of Research Ethics

Human Ethics

  • Gaining consent
  • Ethical considerations, anonymity in data collection

Data Collection Overview

  • Goals of requirements gathering
  • Quantitative vs. qualitative methods
  • Data collection technique overview
RCD: Chapter 4


Lecture Notes
Assignment: You must complete the Tri-Council Tutorial regarding ethics

Project: Initial observations and interviews should be well underway


Observation technique and data coding

  • Theory of situated action
  • Methods, guidelines for conducting field observations
  • Being "the alien"
  • Noting language
  • Coding qualitative data
  • Identifying breakdowns, workarounds, and inefficiencies
  • Live demo of coding
RCD: Chapter 5 Observations and Coding



Modeling work: Flow, sequence, artifact, and physical models

  • Concept of "unpacking" work
  • Importance of multiple representational forms for work
  • Flow and sequence models
  • Concept of distributed cognition
  • Cognitive artifacts
  • Artifact and physical models

RCD: Chapters 6, 7


5/23/14       Project / individual assignment: All one-on-one interviews must be completed by this date, with a picture submitted

Modeling work: Cultural model and affinity diagrams

  • The importance of culture in technology design
  • Examples of cultural importance in products
  • Technological and representational determinism
  • Concepts of world view and epistemology
  • Stakeholders
  • Affinity diagrams
  • Tips for an effective poster

Cognitive artifacts

RCD: Chapter 8


Stakeholders, Developing a Vision

RCD: Chapter 11

Vision and UEDs
5/30/14       Project checkpoint: A snapshot of an affinity diagram must be submitted/posted by 5PM this day


User environment design, visioning, and brainstorming

  • Designing interaction by considering major work environments
  • How to move from data to design
  • Brainstorming techniques


Poster Session 1


Project, Part 1 Poster Session



Design process overview

  • Design process guidelines
  • Designing at various levels of granularity
  • Concept of a design space
  • Storyboarding
  • Video prototyping
  • Scenarios
RCD: Chapters 12, 13 Design Overview  

Potential midterm exam (or in-class design spaces)

6/13/14       Project checkpoint: Design spaces

Paper and physical prototyping

  • Using low-fidelity media versus software
  • Considering representational determinism
  • Prototyping physical interfaces for computational artifacts
RCD: Chapter 14 Design and Prototyping

Project, Part 1 paper due

Group evaluation forms due


Interaction design

  • Affordances
  • Mapping
  • Feedback
  • Visibility
  • Constraints
  • Interaction cycle
  • Mental models
  • Gulfs
  • Customizability
  • Errors

Getting the Right Design and the Design Right

Design Fixation

Mental Models


6/20/14       Project checkpoint: Problem refinement and UEDs

Visual design

  • Gestalt principles
Visual Design



Moving Design Forward


  • Evaluation paradigms
  • Evaluation plans
6/27/14       Visual design assignment

Canada Day, no class!


Experimental studies

  • Experimental study design
  • Within- and between-subjects designs

Discount evaluation techniques

  • Heuristic evaluation
  • Cognitive walkthrough
  • Think aloud


Poster Session 2

Project, Part 2 Poster Session

Design critiques

  • How to hold a design critique
Design Crits  
7/11/14       Project, Part 2 write-up due
7/15/14 Design crits  

Input modalities

  • Text input
  • Pointer input
  • Gesture input
  • Typical rates
  • Fitt's Law

Natural and intelligent input

  • Pen
  • Touch
  • Voice
  • Multi-modal
  • Intelligent user interfaces
  • Typical rates
  • Issues
7/18/14       Project checkpoint: Evaluation

Output modalities

  • Visual displays
  • Auditory displays
  • Ambient and peripheral displays
  Visions of Computing

Rich interaction possibilities


  • The challenges and opportunities for accessibility


Poster Session 3

    Project Part 3, Poster Session


Final report due by 5PM     Project Part 3, final report due
  Final exam      


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