User Interface Design

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Course Title:
User Interface Design

Zita Farkas (course lead), Gyuri Juhász, Zsuzsanna Kovács, Judit Pónya

Weeks 1-14, 2 credits

Short Description of the Course:
This course addresses user satisfaction in the software industry by focusing developers’ awareness and skills towards making user friendly software that serves users’ needs well and is a source of satisfaction rather than frustration.

Software industry analysts estimate that about 90% of the software written, tested, and delivered according to pre-agreed specifications of prospective users is simply not used. This overwhelming inefficiency is due to different languages and intellectual satisfaction criteria of software experts and domain experts, who find it easier to impress their peers with technical solutions or publications than to talk and listen in the language of the “other side”.

The course improves user-centered thinking. Student teams design the user experience of an interactive system of their own choosing, and learn a few key methods of understanding end users’ needs, creating prototypes of a user interface and validating them by user testing.

Participants of the User Interface Design course are encouraged to sign up for the IT Entrepreneurship course (Gábor Bojár) as well, because the objective of the two courses are closely related. While the User Interface Design course focuses on how to design an easy to use product, the IT Entrepreneurship course teaches how to build a company to sell that product. Along the semester, students create customer-related materials in the UID course which can be re-used in the other course.

Aim of the Course:
This course enables and encourages students to create user-friendly solutions regardless of their manual creative skills or design experience. We achieve this by increasing sensitivity to users’ real problems and developing analytical and design skills to solve them.

In addition, by simulating processes of real-life software design, students will gain insights into the practice of user-centered design under difficult organizational, budget and deadline constraints. They will also improve their teamwork and presentation skills.

Finally, the course aims at raising student awareness of cognitive sciences, usability engineering and related disciplines.

There are no prerequisites for this course. It is a principal aim of the course to demonstrate that usable software can be created without extensive theoretical background, just as great dishes can be cooked without being an expert in food chemistry.

The tools and methods used are simple and low-tech; basic user-level computer skills are sufficient for this course.

Detailed Program and Class Schedule:
The course can be best characterized as a design workshop. Students walk the path from an idea to a sophisticated and detailed prototype of an interactive system. Along the way, they collect theoretical knowledge via learning-by-doing and trial-and-error, as opposed to formal lectures about fine details of the discipline.

Students learn how to avoid the most common pitfall of software development projects that prevent delivered systems from being fully-utilized – or used at all: the lack of proper understanding of the users of the system, their current and future needs, and the lack of verification of concepts and early designs.

Students form teams to develop user interfaces in a series of workshops which take them along the most important steps of the design process. See the table below for more details about the themes and schedule of the workshops. Each workshop starts with a brief introduction to the goals and methods of the workshop, but most of the time is dedicated to intensive teamwork with the assistance of the instructor. 

Part 1: Goal setting and research. Analysis of users and their needs, preferences, and thinking.
Part 2: Shaping the information architecture and creation of early sketches. Collecting feedback from mentors and peers.
Part 3: Bits of theory.Design iterations and evaluation methods. Testing with external users.
Part 4: Adding final details and presenting the results.

In addition to the lectures and workshops, students are expected to spend at least 2 extra hours per week in teams, completing and refining what they produced in the preceding workshop, to ensure that all teams progress at an equal pace.

Content and schedule:

Week 1 Introduction to UID.
Week 2 Design patterns and J.J. Garrett elements. Heuristics.
Week 3 Interview techniques.
Week 4 Persona creation workshop and user journey mapping.
Week 5 Information Architecture basics and prototyping tools.
Week 6 Sketching workshop. Defining functions.
Week 7 Principles of human cognition.
Week 8 In-class design workshop and prototype building I.
Week 9 In-class design workshop and prototype building II.
Week 10 Usability testing methods (think aloud, remote testing tools).
Week 11 Usability testing workshop.
Week 12 Retrospective on user testing and final design consultation.
Week 13 Student design presentations and evaluation.

Note: the instructors are active employees or consultants working for leading companies. While this guarantees that the methods and approaches are 100% up-to-date and match current industry trends, their duties may lead to minor changes in the schedule.

Method of instruction:
Lectures with hands-on practice and analysis, project-based creative sessions in groups, prototype and design creation on paper and with simple software tools.

Groups are assisted in the creative process by mentors from local software companies.

Homework assignments are related to the design themes of the groups. They require individual or group activity.

Required reading:
Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, New Riders, 3rd Edition, 2014.

The book is a companion to the course, discussing topics also covered by the course in an eye-opening, entertaining manner.

In addition to the book, instructors may require the reading of selected articles or blog posts from user experience- or design related online portals.

Optional reading:
Carolyn Snyder, Paper Prototyping, Morgan Kaufman, 2003.

The book provides valuable assistance for those groups which create paper-based mockups as opposed to on-screen, digital prototypes.

Course leader’s Bio:

Zita Farkas is a design engineering PhD student at the Mechanical Engineering Faculty, Budapest University of Technology and Economics. She holds an MSc in industrial design engineering (2008) and rehabilitation engineering (2011) and she is a universal design instructor for physical and info-communication accessibility (2012). Her main research areas are HCI, indoor navigation and assistive technologies. She teaches product design, integrated design and service design courses at BME and Óbuda University.

Instructors’ Bio:

Gyuri Juhász (born 1962) is lead User Experience Designer at LogMeIn, Inc. Graduating as an architect, he joined Graphisoft in 1987. Participated in the development of ArchiCAD, and established a design team introducing usability engineering methods to the development process of Graphisoft. Later he consulted in the fields of online banking and telecom to help the creation of user-friendly systems. Since 2010, he designs user experiences for LogMeIn's portfolio of innovative products and services.

Zsuzsanna Kovács (born 1981) is a User Experience Researcher at Prezi. She studies computer science and mathematics and was teaching programming during her university years. After finishing university she joined SAP where she worked for 3 years as a UI Developer, than shifted to User Experience and became a UI Designer. In 2010 moved to Germany and worked as a UXD at the SAP headquarters. She worked in different areas including traditional and cloud-based business applications, technical platforms, e-commerce products, human capital solutions and now on a cloud-based presentation software. She has a passion for psychology and social media.

Judit Pónya
is a UX Strategist & Designer at FatDUX, an international UX agency. With more than 10 years of experience, she is involved in web, mobile and desktop application projects. Ranging from local startups to giants like Microsoft, she works with a wide variety of clients, balancing business goals, user needs and technology constraints. She taught courses at Budapest Polytechnic and University of Szeged.