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Introduction toUser-Centred Interaction Design

USI Programme, Module by Panos Markopoulos

November 2007

The aim of this module is to provide a step-by-step introduction to user-centered  interaction design. This is achieved by means of a mini-projects during which students execute a single iteration through a typical user-centred design cycle.  The mini-project lasts two weeks and is punctuated by lectures that introduce students to some of the basic interaction design techniques.  Topics covered are:

The students have to present intermediate results at 3 stages of the project:

Projects will be executed by 4 teams USI 's.  Teams should be mixed.

Topic for the mini-project

Scenario 1. Michael puts structure into his life with email

Michael arrives 15' late to work today. As usual he switches on his email to 'plug-in' to work. First thing he gets a few overdue reminders for appointments. He gets rid of them and looks at his inbox. After deleting some spam he knows a few messages need to be answered. This takes long and takes some preparation. He first files away some big mails to make space on the server for new mails and then goes on to inspect quickly the junk folder. Indeed all there, is junk so he empties the folder.

Michael goes to pour himself a cup of coffee and comes back to answer that urgent email. In the process he stops a few times to answer other emails with quick questions and to file away on the folder called Addresses the emails of a new contact person. He should make an entry to the Contacts folder but hasn't got the time right now.

Michael works on many projects. Some of them are rather ephemeral lasting 2-3 weeks. Others last for years. For all these projects Michael communicates with different people although very often he collaborates with the same people for different projects, as he tends to favor projects with the people he likes most. In trying to complete this request for information regarding a bid he has made, he consults a few of the mails he has sent and received regarding this project. Sometimes the information he needs is in attachments to mails, other times he has stored relevant documents on his folder, etc. Mike needs to find that email with the attached excel sheet with the 4th version of the proposed budget. He finds one with the 3rd version attached, so he looks at most recent mails for another one.

During the day Michael breaks often to talk to people, have lunch, go to meetings and answer the phone. Especially for the phone he often consults his email as it is often the case that people calling him inquire about a project or a document or an action pending for which all relevant details can be found in a mail he has received.

Some emails have been littering his inbox for weeks. They are things he should do but never gets around to. Other emails he deletes straight away after answering them immediately. These are typically to friends or colleagues for small jokes or daily activities.

Today he gets a mail at 16:00 with a shopping list. His wife also asks him to be at home with the shopping early so she can cook for the children in time.

This vignette highlights the many uses of email. Imagine your team has been hired by a hardware manufacturer, to provide an email solution suitable for a different target user group or different platform.

Scenario 2 Communities project and define their identity through public shared displays

" John is a research student in the TU/e and is working for a student association. The association organizes a party and John puts up some funny posters they knocked up together on the department announcement board. The next day he is surprised to see that his announcements have been taken down and the department secretary is rather annoyed with him. The board is clearly her responsibility and she makes sure that it is tidy, it portrays the image that the staff want to project to the outside world but also it is guaranteed to give sufficient prominence to information that must be noticed by the staff. Indeed staff have come to rely on the board for a place to find out about department wide activities but also achievements of their colleagues. As the board is next to the staff's mail box, it is often that workers will chat about items before starting their day. "

The vignette above shows that public displays of information are usually an important component of social or professional life. They serve as a material representation of culture, to set the tone of the place. They help share information, provide a shared focus for work activities and social interactions. Their usage also reflects tacit structures and practices within groups and sometimes very explicit intentions by their users. Maintaining them is usually deliberate, requires work but also some coordination amongst the team.

While this vignette focuses upon the working environment, public displays abound: you could find them at the scouts, on your fridge door, the local church, etc.

We seek ways to support communities sharing a public display, so that they can achieve their purposes easier and better.

This project asks you to consider what better and easier might mean to diverse communities and to explore ways for supporting these communities.

Each team should tackle a different user group, e.g., children at school, elderly in a community centre, professionals in an office environment, organizers of a public event. Targeting different kinds of office environments, e.g., travel agent, university, software house, bank, is also a good idea.

Each team should tackle their preferred target user group, e.g., professionals, teenagers, families.   You can also choose your favorite hardware platform among the following 3 options:

For this project, study current email use: when and how is email used, what strategies do people follow to access, manage and use email but also what purposes does email serve for these people. Describe your users and their goals using personas and a task model. Identify opportunities for your design. In the second week you are supposed to propose a conceptual design and make a prototype of it.

As an exercise in heuristic evaluation, a specific application and user group will be given to you (assignment 2)


Recommended text book : Preece,J., Rogers,Y., and Sharp, H., Interaction Design, Wiley, 2002.

I will also be asking you to read from the following books:



Lecture / Presentations


Wednesday 28/11,  9:30-12:00

Introduction/Overview of module

Defining Design Problems

User Profiles


Newman and Lamming ch 2

Mayhew chapters 2

optional: Preece, Rogers and Sharp chapter 1,

optional: Jordan: chapter 3.


Friday  30/11,  9:30-12:00

Personas and Task Analysis

Personas by Cooper

Mayhew Chapter 3

optional: Preece, Rogers and Sharp, chapter 7

Tue 4, 9:30-11:30

Presentations of User Study

Draft report on problem definition and user requirements 

Fri 7/12 9:30-12:30


Conceptual design, metaphors and lo-fi prototypes, idea generation

Preece, Rogers & Sharp, chapter 8


Wed 6/12 9:30-12:30

Concept design presentations

Intro to inspection techniques

Chapter 9 on Inspection Methods

Fri 14/12 13:00-15:00

Presentations of whole project

Hand in Final Report

Ground Rules for Presentations

Everyone should be present in the class at the starting time listed above.

To minimize change-over time, presenters should have one laptop connected, with access (through the network or USB stick or hard disc) to the presentations of each team.

In preparing your presentations, make sure you describe:

It helps if the whole class is interactive, so you can learn from each other's experiences. So ask questions, share your thoughts about the work of other people.

Try to remain constructive even when you are offering critique. You can inquire about the rationale of other people's work, suggest shortcomings, offer alternatives, but do so in a helpful manner that does not become a personal confrontation.

Ground Rules for Reporting

Reports must be mailed by17:00 on the day of its specified deadline.

Hard copies of interim reports should be handed in on the first meeting after the deadline.

The hard copy of the final report should be handed in during the final presentation.

Hand in your best shot no iterations of deliverables with me will be supported (i.e., I will not be correcting the same work till it is good enough).

You can use any format you like e.g., the SIGCHI format or the simple template provided.