A significant portion of your mark in this class is dedicated to a term project. This project will give you experience:

  • observing users as they work
  • creating models of users' work practices
  • identifying ways users' work could be improved using computation
  • designing new computational artifacts
  • evaluating the effectiveness of your designs

This project will be unlike many other projects you have had in that you will continually adopt the perspective of the user and their needs for the purpose of creating innovative technology.

Understanding users and their needs is critical to creating technology that is willingly, gladly, and enthusiastically adopted. The fanciest, most sophisticated technology will fail if it doesn't meet real-world needs and mesh with users' culture (see, for example, the Segway, a technological marvel that has nonetheless been banned in some areas). This project will sensitize you to users' needs by teaching you to focus on people's motivations, goals, capabilities, culture, needs, and desires.

Project Overview

Your overall goal in this project is to understand users' needs in sufficient depth that you can devise new or improved computational artifacts to better meet their needs. When done well, you may find you create something truly innovative and of real value to real people.

The project is divided up into three phases:

  1. Field studies. In the first phase, you will observe and interview users as they perform a very specific task. This information will help you to understand the users' goals, needs, capabilities, culture of practice, and any constraints within which they must operate as they perform their task. At the same time, you will characterize how well their current tools meet their needs, looking for ways to improve the tools. These data will result in a set of models that describe work practices and deficiencies in their current tools.
  2. Design. In the second phase, you will take the results from the first phase and generate novel system designs to address the problems identified. Importantly, you will not create functioning prototypes in this phase. Instead, you will use low-fidelity materials such as paper and cardboard to develop representational prototypes that can be evaluated by your users.
  3. Evaluation. In the final phase, you will create high-fidelity representations of a final system design. These do not need to be fully functional, but must be nearly identical to a final form so that they may be realistically evaluated. You will employ HCI evaluation techniques to demonstrate the ways your design improves upon existing methods.

For each phase you will submit a report and also participate in a public presentation. In the presentation, you will need to summarize your project results.

In addition to these three primary phases, we will have a number of in-class work sessions. These are designed to give you feedback and help you move forward.

The Importance of Access to Users

What should be clear from the above description is that you will need to be able to directly interact with real people. You will not be designing systems for yourself. In fact, the more different the users are from you, the easier you will find the project.

Project Deliverables

Below is a list of the project deliverables. Deliverable due dates may be found in the Progress page. All team presentations will follow the format of e-posters. More information can be found here.