COM3375, Human Computer Interaction
Spring 1999, Professor Futrelle
Course (Catalog) Description
COM 3375 Human Computer Interaction (previous title: User Interface
Prereq: COM 3117 (C/UNIX). Introduces the principles of user interface
design and the practice of usability engineering. Examines design
principles through a combined study of theoretical models of computer-human
interaction and concrete guidelines applied to the major components
of graphical user interfaces. Usability engineering is a methodology
for testing and improving user interface designs to ensure that
their actual performance (i.e., the performance of the user and
computer together) conforms to the designers' intentions. Introduces
the basic elements of usability (learnability, efficiency, error
detection/recovery) and examines a range of experimental techniques
for discovering and correcting usability problems. Each student
participates in a project to design a user interface and test
Introduction to this spring's course
Every one of us has interacted with computers. Some of the systems
we've used helped us to get our jobs done efficiently and without
confusion. But more often than not, interactive systems are confusing
and frustrating to use. Whether through typed commands, or more
often, through menus, dialogues, and mouse interactions, some
systems are bewildering, annoying, frustrating, and time wasters.
"Why can't this system be designed with a little common sense,
so that I know what to do and what to expect?" -- that's the question
we've all asked. Sadly, the people that so enjoy implementing
these systems with good programming skills, are not nearly as
skilled at understanding how to properly design the human-computer
interface. Poorly designed interfaces lead to a great waste of
human productivity and to errors of all types.
What can be done? Happily, there are people who have focused their
energy and intelligence on figuring out what works best in the
design of the human-computer interface. They have developed ways
of assessing user needs and then designing systems that accommodate
them well. They pay attention to design, testing, and redesign.
Our textbook by Ben Shneiderman is an excellent source of ideas
and information about designing computer systems that humans can
use easily and efficiently. In this course, we'll study much of
it and do exercises in design, documenting, programming, and critiquing
The types of assignments that you will be doing
There are a variety of different types of assignments that you
will have to do in this course. We list them briefly here. The
details of the assignments can be reached from the course Syllabus and Calendar page.
- Reading assignments in the textbook. These total about 350 pages of reading, so start reading immediately
and don't get behind! The tests will all focus on these readings.
- Programming in Visual Basic 5.0. Initially the programming will just be to make sure you can
do the basics, e.g., dialogs and menus. There will also be a course
project in VB.
- Literature searching in the library. You will do this to familiarize yourself with the HCI literature
and also to help you find an interesting topic for your project.
- Analysis of existing applications. You will analyze and critique a few existing applications to
see how well they have designed their HCI components.
- Analysis of user interactions. You will watch another user use an application and make notes
on their usage and interview them to see what they think of the usability of the application.
You can reach all the COM3375 web pages through the Teaching Gateway
on my homepage, www.ccs.neu.edu/home/futrelle/.
- Major updates of these COM3375 pages:
- 3/29/99: Posted on CCS site.
- 4/18/99: Up to now, details of assignments #2, #3, #4 have been
posted, a Shneiderman article link has been added to this page,
and the ratings of the VB resurce sites are posted.
- Northeastern University, College of Computer Science, Boston, MA.
- Professor Robert P. Futrelle Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 115 Cullinane
- Hardcopy mailbox:
- 161 Cullinane
- Office 373-4239 (&voice mail), Home 617-244-8261
- Course calendar:
- See the Syllabus and Calendar page and you can access the official University Calendar
- Machine problems / Visual Basic (& others):
- The primary computer-based assignments will be programs in Visual
Basic 5.0 for Windows (VB5). See our course page on Visual Basic for links to large amounts of information about Visual Basic,
including introductory material, code examples, and much more.
I rarely grant exceptions for students to use other systems, so
please don't ask. (I personally use Macintosh Common Lisp for
building interactive systems. Follow this link for more information
on Lisp, and Macintosh Common Lisp in particular. ) The CCS PC lab machines all have VB5 available. The labs are
scheduled to open on Monday April, 5. Details of the CCS Lab schedule here.
- Designing the User Interface by Ben Shneiderman, 3rd edition (Addison-Wesley, 1998). You will
have a lot of reading to do in this book, so get it immediately
Here is an article about Shneiderman in the March 1999 issue of Scientific American. It contains further
- Material on human-computer interaction in the NU libraries:
- There are over 300 books, journals, and proceedings in the Northeastern
Libraries described by terms such as "human computer interaction",
"user interfaces", "GUI", or "SIGCHI". Most of these are available
in Snell, but some are in the Burlington or Dedham NU branch libraries.
Some of your assignments will involve finding and using these
- Resources on the Internet:
- The author and the publisher of our textbook have set up a website
devoted to human-computer interaction, http://www.aw.com/DTUI and there are VB resources on the Web too.
- Personal Help:
- If you need help at any time, find me in my office, call, or send
email, or ask in class to set up an appointment. My office/advising
hours are Thursdays, 11-12 and 4-5.
- Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm, starting March 30th, room 7SL (Snell
Library, basement -- access from outside stairs or tunnel). ALL CLASSES AFTER THAT, STARTING ON APRIL 6TH, WILL BE IN 245CN.
- There will be a Quiz, a Midterm, and a Final Exam. The Quiz is
closed-book; the others are open-textbook, open notes.
- Exam weighting:
- Quiz: 5%, Midterm: 25%. Final: 30%. Machine problems and written
- There will be a variety of assignments. The due dates and additional
details are available through the Syllabus and Calendar page. All assignments are due at the beginning of the class period.
- There will be some material on the tests and information about
the assignments that will only be described in the lectures in
class. If you are forced to miss a class, check with me or other
students about the material you missed.
- In-class demonstrations
- I will normally use on-line computer demonstrations in class to
illustrate important points. This will be done in essentially
every class meeting, either with stand-alone material or attached
to the Internet.
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