Catalog description

Introduction to fundamental principles and methods of human-centered interaction design: Human capabilities and limitations, usability and accessibility guidelines, iterative design, contextual inquiry, task analysis, ideation, prototyping, evaluation. Includes hands-on project and/or laboratory work. Prerequisite: Computer Science 167.

Learning Activities

In this course, you will learn through reading, journaling, and in-class discussions. You will practice what you learn through in-class exercises and a series of investigations, which comprise four independent exercises, presentation and critique of a current research paper, and a semester-long team project serving a client in the Whitman or Walla Walla community. You will record and reflect on your process by keeping a design notebook. You will demonstrate what you have learned through the products of these investigations, and through one examination falling before the Thanksgiving break.

This is a three-credit course. You can expect to spend your time each week roughly as follows, with weekly variations depending on the nature of our activities:


To learn about HCI theories, principles, and methods, we will read the following texts:
Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, Revised & Expanded Edition, Basic Books, 2013. ISBN: 0465050654 (Required)
This text is a classic in the field of Human-Computer Interaction, one of the few books is seems everyone in the field has read.  We will read it first to gain some fundamental insights and concepts into technology design.
Jeff Johnson, Designing with the Mind in Mind: A Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines, 2/e, Morgan Kaufmann, 2014. ISBN: 0124079148 (Required)
Jeff Johnson provides a structure for understanding user interface design guidelines by relating them to constructs and phenomena in cognitive psychology. We will read one or two chapters at a time, usually alongside other readings, through the middle of the semester.
Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 3/e, New Riders, 2014. ISBN: 0321965515 (Recommended)
This book is a fun and easy guide to web usability, aimed at web developers. You may find it a useful review of usability concepts, or a useful book to recommend to classmates and colleagues who have not taken this class.
Steve Krug, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems, New Riders, 2010. ISBN: 0321657292 (Recommended)
This slim volume is a thorough guide to discount usability testing, the most important evaluation method for professional software developers to know. It is designed to be read on a single airplane flight. If you choose not to purchase or borrow this recommended textbook, I will provide you with an alternative reading (which will be adequate, but not nearly as much fun).
Produced by the Digital Communications Division in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, this is a public domain source of best practices in user experience design. We may use this source for introductory material on methods and concepts, as well as guidelines and checklists.
Selected articles from the ACM Digital Library
We will read classic classic papers from research and practice to illustrate interaction design methods before we practice them ourselves. We will also read current research addressing new interaction paradigms and issues of social significance.The ACM Digital Library is accessible on campus or through Penrose Library.
Selected book chapters and sections
Selections from print sources will be provided through the Resources section of the course CLEo site.
Selected articles from blogs and online magazines
Finally, we will occasionally read from online sources. If you are looking for more to read, you may enjoy Smashing Magazine or UX Magazine.

To read effectively, skim the text (or review the table of contents) before reading in depth. While you read, take notes with pen and paper! Note what is important, familiar, exciting, or puzzling. Use your notes to start your reading journal, below.

Reading journal

To help focus your efforts and give us a basis for discussion, I will provide a short list of questions to answer for each day's reading. Reflecting upon your responses to the questions will help to give you a deeper understanding of the most important concepts surrounding each topic. For more detailed guidelines, read the introduction to the reading journal.

Your responses are due by noon the day of class.

You will submit your responses electronically to a private blog via our CLEo course page, where I will be able to give you feedback on your writing. While your journal is informal writing, where the primary goal is to learn, your entries should reflect a certain level of engagement and evidence of thinking seriously about the material. Responses will be graded using the following scale:

Exhibits exceptional clarity, insight and/or creativity.
Exhibits evidence of processing and studying concepts.
Skims the surface. Does not show engagement. Posted late.
Not posted before class time. Incomplete.

This is low-stakes writing. Consistently earning checks will garner a score of 100% on the reading journal; PLUSes will provide extra credit. I may not comment on entries that receive a check, but I will comment to explain a plus, a minus, or a zero for incomplete work.

You should expect to discuss the issues raised in your reading journal entries during class.

Class meetings

Class meetings will involve a mix of discussions, collaborative activities, hands-on exercises, and the occasional lecture. In short: You are expected to attend and actively participate in class. I am expected to make class worth attending.

Participating in class involves:

Students who consistently meet these criteria can expect to earn 100% for their class participation grade. Students who fail to participate regularly or who participate in counterproductive ways (e.g., by interrupting or belittling other students) can expect to earn a lower score. If your participation or non-participation is problematic, I will invite you to visit office hours to discuss the issue.

I encourage you to take notes with pen and paper during class.


You will have the opportunity to practice new skills and ideas through a series of eleven investigations. Most investigations will include an in-class component as well as an artifact (e.g., a poster, prototype, or report) to be completed out of class. 

Each assignment will include collaboration guidelines and evaluation criteria.


You will have an additional opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned through an in-class exam on Monday, November 16. Details about this exam will be announced later in the semester.

Final project deliverables

In addition to the investigations, you will be required to present the final results of your project, create a user manual for the application you design, and reflect in writing on your experiences. These final deliverables will be in lieu of a final exam in this course.

Your final presentations will be scheduled in accordance with the College schedule for final exams. Do not make travel arrangements that will prevent your participation.


Academic Honesty and Collaboration

I encourage collaboration when it promotes learning. However, it is also important for you to understand your homework solutions and to demonstrate your own learning on exams. As explained in the Catalog:

Any form of falsification, misrepresentation of another’s work as one’s own (such as cheating on examinations, reports, or quizzes), or plagiarism from the work of others is academic dishonesty and is a serious offense.

Plagiarism occurs when a student, intentionally or unintentionally, uses someone else’s words, ideas, or data, without proper acknowledgement. College policy regarding plagiarism is more fully explained in the Whitman College Student Handbook. Each student is required to sign the Statement on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism. Cases of academic dishonesty are heard by the Council on Student Affairs.


Each investigation assignment will clearly state whether groups may prepare a joint submission, or whether each individual student should submit their own work.

I expect that your written work is your own. You must not copy written solutions.  You must write up your own reports, and you must acknowledge the contributions of others. For example, you might write, "Alice helped me to understand topic X" or "Bob suggested a strategy for solving problem Y."

If you consult external sources not assigned as readings, I expect you to provide an informal citation that credits your source and lets me find it (e.g., a URL for a Web resource).


Because I intend the exams to assess your own individual understanding of the material, collaboration on exams is not permitted. If you have questions about the exam, bring your questions directly to me. Of course, I encourage you to collaborate while studying for exams.

Because I intend exams to test your mastery of the material rather than your ability to memorize, exams will be open book, open notes, and open computer. However, the time you spend on the exam will be limited. You must have command of your reference materials. Therefore, I encourage you to create a handwritten, single-page "cheat sheet" for each exam.

Preparing a "cheat sheet" serves at least three functions: First, it may save you time during the exam. Second, writing important information may help you to remember it, so that you don't even need to look at your cheat sheet. Third, and most importantly, preparing a "cheat sheet" requires you to reflect on what kinds of questions or problems are likely to appear on the exam and what information will help you answer them efficiently.

I will offer a small amount of extra credit for turning in a one-page "cheat sheet", handwritten by you, along with your exam.


If you are a student with a disability who will need accommodations in this course, please meet with either Julia Dunn, Associate Dean of Students (Memorial 325, 509-527-5213, or Rebecca Frost, Director of Student Success and Disability Support Services (Memorial 325, 509-527-5213, for assistance in developing a plan to address your academic needs. All information about disabilities is considered private; if I receive notification from Ms. Dunn or Ms. Frost that you are eligible to receive an accommodation, I will provide it in as discreet a manner as possible.


Class is time for learning and practice which you cannot obtain by reading someone else's notes. Thus, 1.5% will be deducted from your overall grade for each unexcused absence.

I will excuse your absence if you have a legitimate reason to miss class and you manage your absence responsibly:

I understand that sometimes "things happen." Therefore, you will be granted one unexcused absence from class without penalty. However, this rebate is cancelled upon a second unexcused absence.


Investigations will typically be due on Mondays at 5 p.m.; occasionally in class on Monday. The assignment and the course schedule will clearly specify.

Journal assignments are brief and will be due by noon the day of class, so that I may review your reflections as part of my preparations for class.

Deadlines may be extended for individuals and groups in accordance with the attendance policies described above or, rarely, by negotiation between the instructor and the entire class.

Getting help

I encourage you to come see me as soon as possible if you are finding the reading, investigations, or in-class activities either confusing or too time-consuming. I also welcome discussions about course content and assignments, related current events, and your interests or career plans.

You are welcome to drop in during my official office hours, posted on my home page, and you may knock any time my door is open. If your need is known at least 24 hours in advance, you are very welcome to schedule an appointment with me for a chat in my office, a walk, or lunch.


I will use the following scheme as an initial basis for assigning final grades:

Type of work
Reading journal
Final project deliverables 15%

I do not believe in grading on a curve; I would be thrilled to give you all As. However, I reserve the right to make adjustments if this weighting scheme produces grades which are lower than I believe are deserved. Any such adjustments will only raise your grade, never lower it.

Janet Davis (

Created August 30, 2015
Last revised August 31, 2015
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.