Course Syllabus

Designing Human-Centered Software (DHCS)

05-391/05-891 Section C, Spring 2022


Instructor: Prof. Kelly Rivers


Office Hours: T/Th 12:30-2:00pm in GHC 4109, and by appointment

Class Time: T/Th 3:05-4:25pm EST

Location: Mellon Institute 348

Zoom link (remote only): 

Teaching Assistant: Andrew Kuznetsov <>

Graders: Helena Spencer <> and Proteeti Sinha <>


1: Course Components

Description: Why are things so hard to use these days? Why doesn't this thing I just bought work? Why is this web site so hard to use? These are frustrations that we have all faced from systems not designed with people in mind. The question this course will focus on is: how can we design human-centered systems that people find useful and usable? This course is an introduction to designing, prototyping, and evaluating user interfaces. If you take only one course in Human-Computer Interaction, this is the course for you. We will cover theory as well as practical application of ideas from Human-Computer Interaction. Course work includes lectures, class discussion, homework, class presentations, and group project.

Requirements: This class is a core course for undergrads in the HCI Minor but open to all undergrads and grad students, with either technical or non-technical backgrounds.  Students will need a prerequisite of a fundamental computer programming course (15-104, 15-110, 15-112, or 15-122). This course can only be taken synchronously.


Learning Objectives: By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Explain what a user interface is and identify different components of user interfaces
  • Apply design methodologies to support the design and ideation process
  • Use prototyping methods to create interface prototypes at different levels of fidelity
  • Demonstrate how evaluation methods can measure the usability of an interface


Assessments: Learning will take place through participation, quizzes, homework, and bakeoffs (group projects). Each of these four components will contribute towards your final grade in the class.

  • Participation: primary learning will occur in lecture through presentation, discussion, and class activities. To learn the material, you will need to regularly attend lecture and be an active participant. Participation will be assessed by collecting deliverables from in-class activities and grading them on completion. 
  • Quizzes: quizzes will be assigned synchronously during randomly selected lectures and will assess high-level understanding of the lecture topics. Quizzes are mostly multiple choice/select-all/fill-in-the-blank and are graded on correctness; if you pay attention during class and actively participate, you should be able to do well. There will be approximately 10 quizzes throughout the semester.
  • Homeworks: homework assignments give you the opportunity to practice the methods taught in class in greater depth. Homeworks are generally due on Mondays at 5pm EST (unless otherwise specified) and discussed during Tuesday lectures. Homeworks are graded on correct execution of the methods. There are approximately five homework assignments, mostly during the first half of the semester.
  • Bakeoffs: bakeoffs (group projects) give you the opportunity to work in a three-person team to design, prototype, and evaluate your own user interfaces. Each project will go through an iterative human-centered process, with each phase having a video report and an in-class presentation. Bakeoffs are graded based on a mix of the produced artifacts, performance in class presentations, and peer reviews.


Grading: final grades will be calculated as follows:

  • Participation: 15%
  • Quizzes: 30%
  • Homeworks: 25%
  • Bakeoffs: 30%

Midsemester and Final grades will be assigned using a standard scale, with A: [90 - 100], B: [80 - 90), etc. 


Textbook: there is no required or recommended textbook for this class. Instead, course slides will be posted on Canvas. Credit goes to Prof. Chris Harrison and Prof. David Lindlbauer for designing the original slides.


Resources:  If you require help or would like to further discuss course concepts outside of lecture, you are encouraged to use the course Slack. You may post questions on the Homework channel (where they may be answered by course staff or other students), or you may directly message Prof. Kelly or the course TA with private questions. If you would like in-person help, you are welcome to attend office hours during the scheduled times or via appointment.


2: Course Policies

Attendance: attendance is required, as actively participating in lecture is a vital part of learning the material. This is measured through participation and quizzes. However, life happens and you may occasionally need to miss a class. Therefore, your two lowest participation grades and two lowest quiz grades will be dropped. This means you can safely miss two lectures during the semester with no penalty.


COVID and Illness: though attendance is required, we need to behave as good citizens to each other, especially during the pandemic, and that means not coming to class when contagiously ill. First, make sure to follow CMU's policies on in-person instruction ( Second, if you are quarantining or contagiously ill, contact Prof. Kelly at least an hour before lecture to request remote attendance. She will run Zoom sessions during class as-needed to support sick students.


Emergencies: if you are unable to attend lecture or cannot complete an assignment by the deadline for one of the following reasons, please contact Prof. Kelly before the lecture/deadline so that she can excuse your absence/arrange an extension.

  • Medical Emergencies: if you are ill to the point that you cannot do work, take care of yourself and go to Student Health Services! Prof. Kelly will work with you to help you catch up when you're feeling better
  • Family/Personal Emergencies: if you are having a family or personal emergency (such as a death in the family, a COVID-19 emergency, or a mental health crisis), reach out to your academic advisor or housefellow immediately! These people will help support you in your time of need, and will also reach out to all of your instructors (including Prof. Kelly) to request support for you.
  • University-Approved Absences: if you are attending a university-approved event off-campus (such as a multi-day athletic/academic trip organized by the university), you may request excused absences for the duration of the trip. You must provide confirmation of your attendance, usually from a faculty or staff organizer of the event.

Additionally: if a religious day you observe conflicts with a lecture, or you have previously-scheduled travel that conflicts with a lecture, let Prof. Kelly know before the add deadline to see if an accommodation can be made.


Late Homework Assignments: you should submit homeworks by the posted deadline for maximal learning benefit. However, we will not impose late penalties until we actually begin grading the assignment. Warning: that may occur the evening that the assignment is due, so don't rely on late grading!

Once grading begins, there will be a 10% deduction per day that an assignment is submitted late (up to a maximum of 50% off). No late submissions will be accepted after the last day of classes.

Late Bakeoffs: we cannot accept late bakeoff submissions due to the nature of the assignment. If an external event may cause your group to not finish their project, contact Prof. Kelly as early as possible to explain the situation, and still turn in whatever you have done, even if it is incomplete.


Regrade Requests: if you notice a grading error, contact the course TA within one week of the grade being released to request a regrade. Note that we reserve the right to regrade the entire assignment, not just the mistake, so please only use this for authentic errors.


Formatting Errors: assignments and bakeoffs must be submitted in the requested format. Incorrect formats will lead to an emailed request for resubmission, plus a 10% late deduction per day until the correct format is resubmitted.


3: Collaboration and Academic Integrity

Homework Assignments: You are encouraged to collaborate on assignments, as collaboration leads to good learning. However, there are certain restrictions on how much collaboration is allowed, to ensure that all students understand the material they submit on homework assignments. In general, all collaborators must contribute intellectually and understand the material they produce, and each student must write up their own homework submission individually. If you submit work that you have not contributed intellectually to, or support another student in submitting work they do not fully understand, this counts as an academic integrity violation.

Specifically: while you can give and receive help while working on homework assignments, and you can always discuss course concepts and ideate with other students, you must produce each homework submission yourself. You should not copy work from other students, or from students who have taken the course in previous semesters, or from online. Nor should you allow other students to consult your own submissions.


Quizzes: quizzes should be completed individually during lecture. You are not allowed to consult notes, other students, or outside resources while taking a quiz. Accessing disallowed resources or attempting to copy off of another student during a quiz counts as an academic integrity violation.


Bakeoffs: bakeoffs are inherently collaborative, so you should of course collaborate with your groupmates! You may also receive help from other students at a similar level to help allowed on homework assignments. However, the bakeoff work must still be produced by the team itself; work should not be copied from students outside the group, students from prior semesters, or online.

We will discuss good practices for working in a team during lecture. Try to follow these practices and respect and support each other to create a strong team dynamic. When necessary, note that the peer review process can be used to flag teammates who are not equally contributing to the team effort.


Academic Integrity Violation penalties: academic integrity violations may lead to varying penalties, including a 0 on the assignment, a negative grade on the assignment, a letter grade deduction, or automatically failing the class. Violations may also be reported to the Dean of Student Affairs at the instructor's discretion, which can lead to university-level penalties such as being suspended or expelled.


Plagiarizing, copying, and cheating are never worth it - it's better to submit partially-completed work, or submit late where possible. If you feel unable to complete the coursework authentically, please contact Prof. Kelly to get help with the course.


4: General Policies

Health and Wellness: your first priority should always be to take care of yourself, and this is doubly important as we invent new normals throughout the pandemic. Take care of yourself this semester by eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, socializing, and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.
All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings of anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Contact the Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) office at 412-268-2922 and visit their website at for more information. If you or someone you know is in danger of self-harm, please call someone immediately, day or night via the Re:solve Crisis Network: 888-796-8226


Diversity and Inclusion: we warmly welcome students with a wide range of backgrounds and identities in this course. We strive to make every student in this class feel safe and welcome, both because we respect you as human beings with a diverse set of experiences and because we want to make about HCI as accessible as possible. Designing human-centered interfaces means designing interfaces for all humans, and having a wide range of backgrounds and identities supports that goal.

If something happens that makes you feel unsafe, unwelcome, or discriminated against, please let Prof. Kelly know. I will listen and support you. You can email me directly, or if you wish to report concerns anonymously, you can contact the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion here.


Accommodations: we gladly accommodate students with accommodations that have been approved by the Office of Disability Resources (ODR), as explained here. If you are eligible for accommodations, please submit the appropriate form in the first two weeks of the semester. If you need to acquire the form, contact ODR using these instructions.


Waitlist: unfortunately there are many more students who want to take this class than we can support in three sections. Therefore, not everyone on the waitlist will be able to enroll. However, we will admit students during the first two weeks of class on a rolling basis as seats open.

If you are currently on the waitlist, please do not attend class live - the classroom is not large enough to safely accommodate everyone on the waitlist. Instead, watch for an email from Prof. Kelly inviting you to join the lecture via Zoom for the first two weeks. You will be able to participate and complete Hw0 via this remote participation. Students who attend class this way, actively participate, and turn in Hw0 will be given priority ranking on the waitlist.


5: Course Schedule

Subject to change as needed


Tuesday 01/18 - Welcome & Introduction

  • (define HCI, UX, design process ; class structure and policies)

Thursday 01/20 - History of Computing Interfaces I

  • (Man-Machine Interfaces, Plugboard, Memex, Compiler, Sketchpad, Mouse)


Monday 01/24 - Due Date: Hw0 [Pre-Semester Survey]

Tuesday 01/25 - Prototyping I

  • (Prototype Fidelity, Paper Prototypes, Storyboards, Wizard of Oz)

Thursday 01/27 - History of Computing Interfaces II

  • (On-Line Workstation, Dynabook, Personal Computers, GUIs, Long Nose of Innovation)


Monday 01/31 - Due Date: Hw1 [Paper Prototypes]

Tuesday 02/01 - Prototyping II

  • (HTML, Powerpoint, Other Wireframe Tools)

Thursday 02/03 - Design Goals & Ideation

  • (Design Goals vs. Usability Goals, Goal Measurement, Quantity vs Quality Ideation, Functional Fixation)


Monday 02/07 - Due Date: Hw2 [Mid-Fi Prototypes]

Tuesday 02/08 - Prototyping III

  • (Physical Prototypes, Bodystorming, Video Prototypes, Non-Prototype Videos)

Thursday 02/10 - Visual Design I

  • (Grid Systems, Size, Grouping, Color, Icons)


Monday 02/14 - Due Date: Hw3 [Video Prototypes]

Tuesday 02/15 - Prototyping IV

  • (Processing, Exporting Processing Applications)

Thursday 02/17 - Bakeoff 1 Working Session

  • (Working as a group, Bakeoff Structure)


Monday 02/21 - Due Date: Hw4 [Code Prototypes]

Tuesday 02/22 - Observation I

  • (Contextual Inquiry, Affinity Diagramming, Expert Blindness, Survivorship Bias)

Thursday 02/24 - Evaluation I

  • (Ethical Research Design, IRB Regulations, Goals and Tasks)


Tuesday 03/01 - Evaluation II

  • (Data, Questionnaire Design, Analysis, Evaluation Pitfalls)

Thursday 03/03 - Bakeoff 1 Presentation


No classes during midsemester break


Tuesday 03/15 - Humans I

  • (Human Factors, Fitts' Law, Index of Difficulty vs Movement Time vs Index of Performance, UI Implications)

Thursday 03/17 - Evaluation III

  • (Cognitive Walkthrough, Nielsen Heuristics, Heuristic Evaluation, Usability Aspect Reports)


Monday 03/21 - Due Date: Hw5 [Prototype Evaluation]

Tuesday 03/22 - Humans II [+ Intro to Bakeoff 2]

  • (Hick-Hyman Law, Rule of Four and a Half, Recognition vs. Recall, Model Human Processor, GOMS)

Thursday 03/24 - Visual Design II

  • (Design Patterns, Metaphors, Affordances, Skeuomorphism)


Tuesday 03/29 - Bakeoff 2 Working Session

Thursday 03/31 - Observation II

  • (Life Logging, Diary Studies, Cultural Probes, Experience Sampling, Elicitation Studies, Crowd Sourcing)


Tuesday 04/05 - Bakeoff 2 Presentation

No classes Thursday 04/07 - Enjoy Carnival!


Tuesday 04/12 - Humans III [+ Intro to Bakeoff 3]

  • (How the Human Eye Works; Cognitive Perception; Attention-based Perception)

Thursday 04/14 - Bakeoff 3 Working Session


Tuesday 04/19 - Input/Output

  • (Input: Eyes, Voice, Muscle, Skin, Breath, Heart, Brain; Output: Visual, Audio, Touch, Smell/Taste, Muscle)

Thursday 04/21 - Bakeoff 3 Working Session


Tuesday 04/26 - Special Topic: Intentional Friction

  • (Friction in UX, Game Design, Educational Design)

Thursday 04/28 - Bakeoff 3 Presentation