COM3375, Human Computer Interaction

Spring 1999, Professor Futrelle

Course (Catalog) Description

COM 3375 Human Computer Interaction (previous title: User Interface Design)

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 its usability.

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 interactive systems.

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.

You can reach all the COM3375 web pages through the Teaching Gateway on my homepage,

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:
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 and begin.
Here is an article about Shneiderman in the March 1999 issue of Scientific American. It contains further useful links.
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 references.
Resources on the Internet:
The author and the publisher of our textbook have set up a website devoted to human-computer interaction, 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 exercises, 40%.
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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