Individual Assignment #1: UI Critique (due in 1 week)


  1. Create a personal course web page with your name and email address at the at the top and post it to a server somewhere. You will use this during the semester to post all of your individual homework assignments. You can organize this however you want, but make sure the instructor can quickly find each week’s work on the page. Send an email with your name, email, and the web address to
  2. Respond to the email you will receive with questions about your goals for the course.

Remdedial Programming

If you’re new to programming or not comfortable with it, you should begin working immediately on tutorials in your language of choice. If you are not sure what language to use, pick Java and start working your way through the Sun Java tutorial Trails Covering the Basics


Find 2 examples of good user interface design, and 2 examples of bad user interface design.

Your examples should be specific. It's very hard to find a large interface that's completely good or completely bad, so don't try. Instead, focus on a particular feature or aspect of a user interface that makes your case. Avoid fuzzy words like “intuitive” and “user-friendly”. Be as precise as possible about what makes it good or bad. For example, don’t just say that it “looks professional.” Explain what makes it look that way. Don't just say the interface "is confusing." Explain what specifically makes it so.

You aren't limited to desktop software. Web sites offer many great candidates for fame and shame. You aren't even limited to traditional computer interfaces. Feel free to go out into the real world, and consider consumer appliances, car dashboards, building entrances, traffic intersections, shower controls, etc. (Norman's book Design of Everyday Things includes a lot of examples of this kind, which you may find inspirational.)

What to Post   

Your report should include 2 good examples and 2 bad examples. For each example:

Your document needs to be well organized, easy to read, and free of typos.



Individual Assignment #2 – Project Brainstorming (part 1 due on 1/24; part 2 due 1 hour before class 1/26)

Skim Tim Bickmore's bibliography of HCI for older adults, and the research papers on interfaces for older adults and health interfaces, and think about project ideas for the course (see Team Assignment #1 for more details). Pick three different project ideas that you would be interested in working on for a team project, make a rough sketch of a user interface (a scanned or photographed sketch on paper is best) and write a 1 paragraph proposal for each, further fleshing out the idea.

Part 1: Post your 1 paragraph proposal for each idea on the Piazza newsgroup under #projectbrainstormingideas (Do this by 1/24 6PM). Monitor the website and see how other students and Stephen respond to your ideas. Comment on ideas from your peers.

Part 2: Revise your ideas (or come up with new ones) based on the newsgroup feedback and post your three best ideas and write-ups and sketches on a web page in your order of preference (these will be used to help form project teams).

Individual Homework #3 – Ethnography (due in 1 week)

Please do not attempt this until we have discussed it in class on 1/26.

In this assignment you will spend some time observing an an environment where older adults spend time. You will hone your observation skills and generate ideas about how technology could either help older adults with their help or help researchers advance health with the help of older adults.

Tasks (detailed in the class slides ... please review them for the full information!):

What to Post

Your report should include a copy of the notes you made while doin the observation (if they are messy that is ok), a one-paragraph summary of why you picked your particular activity to focus on, followed by an overview of the activity, the kinds of people you observed engaging in it, a description of any artifacts they used. Following this, provide a detailed description of the activity and any variations you observed, and what you found out in your interviews (do not identify people by full name in your writeup - first name is OK). You should try to include a few quotes from people that support your conclusions. (See the ethnography research readings for examples of how to write your report.) You can include sketches in your report but no photographs, and you cannot mention any person's name. Total report length (not including the raw notes) should be 2-3 pages.

Individual Homework #4 –Task Analysis (due in 1 week)

In this individual assignment, you will start the design of your term project by doing the following:

Each person on the team should do this assignment independently. You are not to consult with one another!

What to Post. Your user analysis and task analysis report should be around 4 pages long. Include the following parts:

Individual Homework #5 – Idea to Low-fidelity storyboarding (due in 1 week)

At this point in the course you should be gaining an appreciation for not committing to an idea too early in the design process. You should also have gained an appreciation for how you should go about understanding the user and problem domain in order to come up with useful and innovative solutions to problem that are likely to work in the real world (as opposed to only in your head!). In this assignment your goal is to put these skills to use on a new problem you haven't thought about so far.

This is an individual assignment that you should perform on your own. Please do not talk with your classmates.

Your mission in this exercise is to design and storyboard the best interface you can to address this problem:

There is increasing evidence that extended sitting is bad for your help. Scientists have known for a long time that lack of physical activity causes health problems. More recently, however, they have uncovered evidence that extended sitting (even for just two hours) causes physiological changes in the body that may be harmful. We are trained throughout our lives to sit, but this may not be good for us.

Increasingly, there are people (such as your instructor) who are vowing to (1) spend more time walking or standing throughout the day, especially the workday, and (2) break of long bouts of sitting with short or long bouts of standing or walking. To facilitate this, these people (such as your instructor) are buying desks that can be manually (and easily) raised or lowered so that some of the workday can be spent standing. Other innovations such as cordless phones, mobile phones, instant messaging, location-based systems, and others may also facilitate this change.

The problem is that even with these innovations, many people (such as your instructor) may still spend the vast majority of their time sitting.

A big-time silicon valley investor has decided that creating software that will help people spend less time sitting is a big-time business opportunity. The investor is ready to fund you to build the system, but has told you to come up with a good idea of what to build. The investor has given you one week to make a case that you should be the one to create this software.

The investor has made a few rules. You can assume that people will have manual sit-to-stand desks. You can assume that people have advanced smartphones. Your target users are office workers in the U.S. (such as most of us at Northeastern). You cannot assume that people will invest in fancier desks (such as sit-to-stand desks with treadmills built in). Although some people are interested in sitting less already, most of people the investor would like to sell the software to are not even aware that sitting is a problem. Finally, the investor does want to make money somehow.

Your challenge, therefore, is to develop an idea for computer software that will address this problem and help people who want to spend less time sitting actually do it. You must hand in a storyboard that will convey the idea effectively to this investor.

What to Post. Please turn in the following:

  1. A bullet list of what you did as you developed your idea.
  2. A bullet list of important concepts, tasks, and/or constraints that you learned from #1 that your design takes into account.
  3. Your storyboard, that clearly shows how the interface works and demonstrates that you have used strategies that we have talked about so far in the course. One suggestion is to do this in a powerpoint presentation, but you can use another format if you'd like. It must be clear what you propose and professionally presented, with some justification of your major design decisions. It needs to be understandable on its own (i.e., you will not be there to present it, the investor will just read what you hand in).


Our "investor" will pick the five ideas that seem to have the most promise based on the information posted and only those assignments will receive an A on this assignment. You are therefore competing against your classmates and want to employ your new skills!

Individual Homework #6 – Heuristic evaluation guidelines (due in 1week)

Your mission in this exercise is to create a comprehensive list of heuristic guidelines, user interface rules, and tips and tricks. Your goal is to record the "nuggets" of ideas you that have been mentioned in all the reading materials up to this point, and to organize those ideas in a way you believe to be helpful for you. Your work will be shared with the rest of the class.

What to Post. Please turn in the following:

We will send around a document with links to all the checklists for the entire class, so make sure your checklist will be accessble by everyone else.

Individual Homework #7 – Graphic design (due in 1 week (after the break))

In this assignment, you will design a mockup of the user interface for a hypothetical home-automation application that may run on a phone, desktop, or tablet computer (a well-designed UI will scale to each).  This will be designed for users with a minimum amount of technological experience, and may include older adults (avoid fiddly little controls).  What you submit will be one or more "screen shots" that demonstrate understanding of the graphic design principles outlined in Krause and the other readings.

The tools you use are up to your discretion, but may include colored pencils, graph paper, OmniGraffle, PowerPoint, HTML, etc.  What you will produce should be adequate to show to a developer with some reasonable expectation that they would be able to implement it.

The application, though Wizard-of-Oz magic, has the following capabilities:

At minimum, you must create iconic buttons (a button with text that says "make coffee" is not iconic!) for each of these functions. Refer to Krause p164-169 for tips on creating a good icon.  Artistic talent is helpful but not required as long as you can convey your concept.  Ultimately, this button will be pressed by the user in order to "do this thing now"

For each of these functions, your interface should provide additional widgets for the following:

[Make a cup of coffee]
- Select light, medium, dark roast
- Add cream and/or sugar

[Start your car remotely]
- Display status whether car is currently on or off

[Adjust home thermostat]
- Show current temperature
- Select a new temperature in the range of 55-85 deg

Think carefully how these functions are organized, arranged, and when/where they are presented to the user.  And that's all the instruction you will get.  Design is an open-ended iterative process.  You probably have questions about other details related to this broadly specified application.  Make some educated guesses, and show your ideas to other people to elicit feedback.  When you come up with a final solution, render it as convincingly as possible.  A well-designed interface will include some consideration of the following principles (among others):