Spring 2012

Computer/Human Interaction

CS 5340
College of Computer and Information Science

Credit Hours:

  4 SH

Class Location:

  Forsyth Building 235

Class Time:

  6:00-9:00 PM Thursdays

First Class:

  January 12, 2012
Last Class:    April 19, 2012

Final exam:



  Stephen Intille, Ph.D.


  450 West Village H

Office Hrs:          

  Immediately after class or arranged via email
Email:    ...@neu.edu
Grader   Zeeshan Sayyed
Message group   https://piazza.com/northeastern

Catalog Description:

Covers the principles of human-computer interaction and the design and evaluation of user interfaces. Topics include an overview of human information processing subsystems (perception, memory, attention, and problem solving); how the properties of these systems affect the design of user interfaces; the principles, guidelines, and specification languages for designing good user interfaces, with emphasis on tool kits and libraries of standard graphical user interface objects; and a variety of interface evaluation methodologies that can be used to measure the usability of software. Other topics may include World Wide Web design principles and tools, computer-supported cooperative work, multimodal and “next generation” interfaces, speech and natural language interfaces, and virtual reality interfaces. Course work includes both the creation and implementation of original user interface designs, and the evaluation of user interfaces created by others.

Levels: Graduate, Advanced Undergraduate
Type: Lecture and seminar; project


The course catalog lists "knowledge of C programming language/UNIX." In reality, the prerequisite is programming skill in some practical programming language such as Java (ideally), C#, C++, or C. The course focuses on human-computer interaction and interface design and assumes that students will have the skills required to program prototypes of computer interfaces. Students without programming experience who wish to take this course should speak with the instructor before the second class.


This course provides an introduction to and overview of the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). HCI is an interdisciplinary field that integrates theories and methodologies from computer science, cognitive psychology, design, and many other areas. Course readings will span current theory and practice in interface specification, design and evaluation, as well as current and classic research papers in HCI. Students will work on both individual and team projects to design, implement and evaluate computer interfaces. The course is open to students from all disciplines, providing them with experience working in interdisciplinary design teams.

There are two major components to the course, treated in parallel during the semester. The central focus of the course is a semester-long team project, in which students will design, implement and evaluate a user interface. Teams will be incrementally led through the phases of ethnographic study and requirements analysis, scenario-based design, paper prototyping, computer prototyping, and several methods of usability analysis and evaluation. The second component of the course involves exposure to current research in HCI, in order to provide students with an understanding of the range of issues addressed in the field, to provide them with practice reading, presenting and critiquing HCI research, and to provide ideas for team projects. This component of the course will be implemented in a seminar style, with students presenting and critiquing short HCI research papers each week.

A special focus of the course is on developing user interfaces for people unlike the students themselves that serve an important purpose -- supporting health. The course projects will target health-related applications for older adults.

Course Objectives:

By the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

Classroom Format: 

A typical three-hour class will consist of:

  1. Review of previous week’s assignments, including presentation and discussion by randomly selected students.
  2. Lecture on HCI practice topic.
  3. Discussion of next week’s assignments.
  4. Short break (10 min).
  5. Introduction to HCI research topic by instructor.
  6. HCI research paper presentations by students.

Some classes will be devoted to pilot testing of project ideas using low-fidelity (i.e. paper) prototyping and high-fidelity testing of prototype systems. A few classes may have invited guests.


This course requires a significant amount of work outside of the classroom.

A typical week will consist of:

In addition, at least once during the semester each student will present and critique a short research paper from the HCI literature in class (see presentation instructions), as well as participate in the presentation of their team project results both orally and in a final written report.

The final project evaluation will consist, in part, of a user evaluation session with a naive user who has never tried the user interface before.

Required and Optional Texts:

Required: Human-Computer Interaction, Third Edition by Alan Dix et al, Prentice Hall (2004).


Usability Engineering by Nielsen, J.

The Design of Everyday Things by Norman, D.

Additional readings will be provided on Blackboard.

Course Schedule/Outline (tentative!):


Topics & Readings








Overview of HCI and course.

Pick papers


I1, T1


Intro (Dix Intro). Humans (Dix Ch 1). Computers (skim Dix Ch 2). Paradigms (Dix Ch 4)


I1 (Interface)



HCI development process (Dix Ch 6). Interaction paradigms (Dix Ch 3). Doing observational studies (Fetterman on Blackboard).

Ethnography (Week 3)

I2 (Project ideas, on 1/24)



Requirements analysis (Dix Ch 13 & 15). HCI for older adults (Hawthorne on Blackboard).
Optional: Intro to Java Swing

Health interfaces #1; Older adults (Week 4)

I3 (Ethnography)
T1 (Project ideas/teams)

I4, T2


Class starts at 7PM
Design I (Dix Ch 5, Dix Ch 7). GUI architectures and tools (Dix Ch 8).
Optional: Swing events. Swing layout managers.(Or GUI doc in language of choice)

Interface Design Tools & Toolkits (Week 5)

I4 (Task analysis)
T2 (Task analysis & GUI)

I5, T3


Design II (TahidiETAL06 on Blackboard). Paper prototyping (Rettig on Blackboard).

Design Skills (Week 6)

I5 (Idea to low-fidelity storyboarding)
T3 (Interaction metaphors and storynoarding)



Heuristic evaluation (Dix Ch 9, Nielsen Ch 5 (on BlackBoard))

Health interfaces #2 (Week 7)

T4 (Design sketches)

T5, I6


Graphic Design Basics (Excepts from Design Basics Index (on BlackBoard)). Universal design (Dix Ch 10).

Graphic Design; Tangible interfaces; Games (Week 8)

I6 (Heuristic list)

T6, I7


No class (Spring break)




Usability testing (Nielsen Ch 6). Other assessment methods (Nielsen Ch 7). Motivation for Usability (Nielsen Ch 1). Olympic Message System (Gould on Blackboard). Models (Dix Ch 12).

Mobile (Week 9)

I7 (Graphic design)
(Paper proto)



Dialog-based UIs (Dix Ch 14 & 16).

Anthropomorphic interfaces; Speech Interfaces (Week 10)

Opt: meeting Stephen

CSCW (Dix Ch 19). Help (Dix Ch 11).
In-class heuristic evaluation 1

CSCW (Week 11) T6 (High fidelity) T7


Ubicomp (Dix Ch 18 and Dix Ch 20).
In-class heuristic evaluation 2

Affective interfaces; Ubicomp (Week 12)

T7 (Revision #1)



In-class live interface evaluation


T8 (Revision #2)


4/19 Final project presentations   Final presentation instructions  
4/21 Final report due 7 AM   T9 (Revision #3 and Final report)  

Course subject content is tentative and may change during the semester.  Students will be notified of such changes.

Grading Procedures and Criteria:

Prior experience suggests that work in this course will generally fall into one of four categories:

Course work falling into these categories correspond roughly to A, B, C, and D grades. The final grade for the course will be computed by weighting the results from each assignment according to the following formula:  

Expectations of quality work showing mastery of course material will increase with every assignment, culminating very high expectations for the final project. Class and Piazza contributions where students have clearly made efforts to help other students will weight heavily in borderline grade decisions.

Reading notes must demonstrate that the student has read and understood the readings. They succinctly list the most important points from the reading and other thoughts/ideas that demonstrate the readings have been thoughtfully considered.

Classroom Policies:

Students are expected to demonstrate qualities of academic integrity: a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values:  honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.  
Actively engaging in verbal exchanges of ideas and concepts will be a major component of learning in this course. This will be stimulated by readings and class presentations and discussions. Therefore everyone will be expected to actively and positively listen to others and to communicate their ideas during class. Some students are less comfortable speaking in class than others, but open discussion of ideas and even disagreement is essential.  Therefore, all students are expected to read course materials prior to class and will be called upon at times even if they do not raise their hands. Participation does not result from talking a lot, but as a result of critical thinking and articulation of ideas.

University policy dictates that students must seek the instructor’s permission to tape record class lectures.  I will always allow the use of tape recorders to support your learning.

To facilitate discussion and learning, electronic devices must be turned off in class, including laptops, tablets, and phones. Slides shown in class will be available on the course website after each class. 

Despite the dinner time meeting time of our class, students should not eat in class out of respect for others.

Writing/Presentation Policies:

Assignments that involve writing and presentation will be judged on clarity of presentation as well as content. Students who are having difficulty with writing will be referred to the Northeastern University Writing Center.

Late Policy:

Well prior to an assignment due date, a student may request an extension with a reasonable explanation.  It is the discretion of the instructor to permit late assignments.  Unexcused late assignments will automatically be lowered by one grade. Assignments will not be accepted more than one week late. Because the team project activities each week build on the prior weeks’ results, teams are strongly encouraged to turn in their work on time in whatever state it is in.

Reading notes must be online two hours before the start of class and hard-copies must be handed in during class. If the notes are not available at that time, the grade for that note session is a 0, but the lowest notes grade will be dropped.

Academic Honesty:

All students are expected and encouraged to discuss the topics raised by this course with each other. Ideas incorporated from an outside source or another student must be documented appropriately in write-ups or presentations.  Students must abide by the NU Code of Student Conduct  (http://www.northeastern.edu/osccr/codeofstudentconduct.html) and Academic Integrity Policy (http://www.northeastern.edu/osccr/academichonesty.html). Acts of academic dishonesty will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.

Academic honesty is fundamental to the learning process. As a reminder,  

Any student found cheating on an assignment will receive a zero on that assignment.  A second offense will result in a failing grade for the entire course.


Students who have a disability are encouraged to seek accommodations though the University Disability Resource Center and to speak privately with the instructor about needs for accommodations and strategies to support success. This information will be kept confidential.

Course Evaluations and Trace:

The instructor will distribute optional mid-term and final course evaluations, to be returned anonymously. Responses to the questions help to improve this course during the current semester and for future students.

All students are also strongly encouraged to use the TRACE (Teacher Rating and Course Evaluation) system near the end of the course to evaluate this course. An reminder about TRACE should arrive via email about two weeks before the end of the course.