User Interface Design

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Course Title:
User Interface Design

Gyuri Juhász

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 software more usable.

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.

In 2 or 3 extra sessions, with the assistance of invited experts, students analyze software tools and services and identify details of good or poor usability. Industry experts in various domains (Architectural CAD, navigation, search, streaming video, etc.) highlight domain-specific design and usability problems. Students analyze problems and find solutions via hands-on practice.

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. Additionally, participants in this course in the spring semester are also encouraged to sign up for the Mobile Software Development course (Bertalan Forstner, Péter Ekler, Imre Kelényi), offered as an intensive one-month summer course following the spring semester. As part of that course, students will be taught to actually develop the product designed in the User Interface Design course, and then attempt to market it according to the business plan built during the IT Entrepreneurship 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. 

Weeks 1-3: students get an overview of the human cognitive processes related to the usage of interactive systems, and the role of design in a development process. By the end of this period, students form the teams and choose a design challenge. 

Weeks 4-5: analysis of users and their needs, preferences, and thinking. Based on the information collected, students design the basic information architecture of the system and create preliminary design sketches.

Weeks 6-7: creation of early designs for most major components of the user interface.

To wrap up this block, teams present their results to the class, for comment, criticism, and discussion, in a heuristic evaluation session.

Weeks 8-10: increasingly detailed design activity, with iterative rounds of testing and design changes. At the end of this block, students write a test, about theory and methods covered.

Weeks 11-13: rapid rounds of design sessions. Students complete their designs then adapt them to an alternative platform (such as creating a mobile version of a desktop application), or design a companion product on another platform. 

Week 14: final exam Presentation of designs to a board of professors and industry experts. 

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.

In addition to the regular weekly classroom activity, 2 to 3 lectures or interactive hands-on sessions by domain experts from fields like CAD system design and development, GPS navigation or streaming video will provide insight into design successes and failures.

Content and schedule: 

Week 1

Course intro. Design practice of a simple device.

Week 2

Principles of human cognition. Affordances, constraints, mappings. Workshop intro.

Week 3

Norman's action cycle. Analysis and design exercise of a complex applicance.

Week 4

Personas, stories, workflows. User and task analysis workshop.

Week 5

Card sorting workshop.

Week 6

Prototyping methods and tools. Prototyping workshop.

Week 7

User interface guidelines. Design development workshop.

Week 8

Team project reviews via heuristic evaluation.

Week 9

Evaluation methods. User testing workshop.

Week 10

¾ term written test.

Week 11

Design development workshop.

Week 12

Alternative platform selection and start of redesign. Platform-specific design issues.

Week 13

Design development workshop. Final design consultation.

Week 14

Student design presentations and evaluation.


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

Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, New Riders, 2006.
Carolyn Snyder, Paper Prototyping, Morgan Kaufman, 2003.

Instructor’s Bio:

Gyuri Juhász (born 1962) is lead User Experience Designer at LogMeIn, Inc. Graduating from the Budapest University of Technology and Economics in 1986 as an architect, he joined Graphisoft in 1987. As a user interface designer, he participated in the development of Graphisoft's leading product, ArchiCAD, a 3D architectural design and building simulation software. Subsequently, he established a special software design team introducing usability engineering methods to the development process of Graphisoft. He also consulted for various organizations in the fields of online banking and telecom and helped them deliver user-friendly systems. Recently, he designs user experiences for LogMeIn's portfolio of innovative products and services.