SWE 632: User Interface Design and Development, Fall 2015

Thursdays, 4:30pm-7:10pm, 136 Innovation Hall

Grades, Readings available as pdfs: Blackboard
Resources (Announcements, Schedule, Assignments, Discussion): Piazza

Instructor: Prof. Thomas LaToza
Office: 4431 Engineering Building; (703) 993-1677
Office Hours: Anytime electronically, Wed 3-4:30, or by appointment

Teaching Assistant
Sunitha Thummala
Office: 4456 Engineering Building
Office hours: Monday 1:30 - 3:30pm

Course Overview

This course will provide a comprehensive introduction to human-computer interaction and the design and development of user interfaces, covering basic human cognition, methods for needfinding and prototyping, user-centered design, empirical and analytical methods for conducting usability evaluations, and principles for visual, information, interaction, and community design.

Learning Outcomes
  • Design a UI through user-centered design
  • Conduct a heuristic evaluation or usability evaluation to identify usability issues
  • Use principles from visual, interaction, and community design to to identify usability issues
  • Improve a UI by addressing usability issues through iterative design
  • Use modern web technologies to implement a UI

Required Textbooks

  • The UX Book, Rex Hartson & Pardha S. Pyla; Morgan Kaufmann, 1st Edition, 2012 (referenced as Hartson & Pyla)
  • The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition, Don Norman, Basic Books, 2013 (referenced as Norman)


Lecture titles link to lecture slides.
1. Course Overview and Heuristic Evaluation (9/3)
Assigned readings: none
2. Human Cognition (9/10)

Assigned readings

  • Norman, Chapter 1: The Psychopathology of Everyday Things
  • Norman, Chapter 2: The Psychology of Everyday Actions
HWs: HW0 due, Tech Talk signup due
3. Mental Models and Distributed Cognition (9/17)
Assigned readings: Norman, Chapter 3: Knowledge in the Head and in the World
4. User-Centered Design (9/24)

Assigned readings: Norman, Chapter 6: Design Thinking

HWs: HW1 due

5. Contextual Inquiry (10/1)

Assigned readings: Hartson & Pyla, Chapter 3: Contextual Inquiry: Eliciting Work Activity

HWs: HW2 due

6. Sketching and Prototyping (10/8)
Assigned readings: Hartson & Pyla, Chapter 11: Prototyping
7. Usability Studies (10/15)

Assigned readings

  • Hartson & Pyla, Chapter 14: Rigorous Empirical Evaluation: Preparation
  • Hartson & Pyla, Chapter 15: Rigorous Empirical Evaluation, Running the Session

HWs: HW3 due

8. Midterm Exam (10/22)
9. Visual Design (10/29)(online lecture
Assigned reading (distributed as pdf): Mullet and Sano, Chapter 4, Designing Visual Interfaces
10. Information Visualization (11/5)

Assigned readings (distributed as pdf): Card, Mackinlay, and Shneiderman, Chapter 1, Information Visualization

HWs: HW4 due

11. Interaction Techniques 1 (11/2)

Assigned reading: Hartson & Pyla, Chapter 22, pages 689 - 750

HWs: HW5 due

12. Interaction Techniques 2 (11/19)

Assigned reading: Hartson & Pyla, Chapter 22, pages 751 - 801

HWs: HW6 due

13. Community Design (12/3)

Assigned reading (distributed as pdf): Kraut and Resnick, Chapter 2, Encouraging Contribution to Online Communities

HWs: HW7 due

14. Review and Project Presentations (12/10)

Assigned readings: none

HWs: Project Presentation in Class

15. Final Exam (12/17)
4:30pm –7:10pm, 136 Innovation Hall

Course Policies


If you have a general question about an assignment or course content, first check piazza to see if someone has already answered your question. If not, post your question in piazza, where your question may be answered by other students or the course staff. For questions about grades, contact the TA by email.

Office Hours

Office hours are times that we commit to being in our office, door open, first come, first served. You do not need an appointment, and no appointments are accepted. If you cannot make the scheduled office hours, then we can try to set up an appointment. Please note that I am seldom available after 5:00 pm. We will inform you in class or on the discussion board if we have to miss office hours.


We will have readings from the textbooks Hartson & Pyla and Norman. Additionally, three readings will be chapters from other books, which will be available electronically through Blackboard. All readings are listed in the schedule below.


This course will use Piazza for posting the schedule and all assignments and announcements. Additionally, we will use Piazza for a discussion board. Information for accessing our class will be provided on the first day of class. Participation on the discussion threads will count for 5% of your grade, which you can earn in several ways.

  1. Real-life usability failures: Start a discussion about a usability problem that you found. Tell us what happened, how it affected users, and how it could be corrected.
  2. Real-life usability successes: Start a discussion about a very effective UI that you found. Tell us specifically what the designers did that was effective for the intended users.
  3. Post questions to an appropriate thread and they will be answered by your instructor, TA, or classmates. (Basic questions are encouraged, but only “interesting” questions will earn credit.) Correct answers will also earn credit.

Participation must occur during the semester, not after final exams start.

Grades and the readings available as pdfs will be available through Blackboard.


There will be a midterm exam and a comprehensive final exam which will be closed-book in-class. Exams will cover material from the lectures and assigned readings.


Unless arrangements are worked out in advance, missed tests cannot be made up. As many of the HW assignments involve peer evaluations where groups give and receive feedback with other groups, late HW submissions impact not only the groups themselves but other students in the course. Thus, 10% will be deducted for late HW assignments and late HW assignments will only be accepted for 24 hours after the due date. HW assignments submitted more than 24 hours late will receive a zero. If you’re worried about being busy around the time of a HW submission, please plan ahead and get started early.


The homeworks in the course will be in the form of a project. You will first design and implement a simple UI in the form of a web app. Throughout the semester, you will perform peer evaluations, identifying usability issues with the UI of apps built by other students in the course. Based on the reported usability issues you receive, you will then iteratively redesign and improve the usability of your web app to address these issues. Full details for each HW can be found in the HW Assignment descriptions; the due dates are summarized in the schedule below.

You are allowed to work on the HWs collaboratively using one of two models:

  1. Work on and submit all HWs independently.
  2. Collaborate from start to finish on all HWs with at most two other students in SWE 632. You must submit one solution as a group for each HW. Additionally, each group member will separately submit a peer evaluation, describing the involvement of each group member (including themselves) in the HW assignment.

Note: You are NOT ALLOWED to include “guest names.” Every person listed as a collaborator must contribute. If someone is listed as a collaborator but did not contribute, all will be given a zero on the assignment and reported to the university honor committee.

Tech Talks

Each student will be responsible for giving a short group presentation surveying a front-end web technology. Each group will consist of 2 students. See the Tech Talks handout for more details.

In-class and online discussion participation: 5%
Tech talk: 10%
HWs and project presentation: 40%
Mid-term exam: 20%
Final exam: 25%
Honor Code

GMU is an Honor Code university; please see the Office for Academic Integrity for a full description of the code and the honor committee process, and the Computer Science Department’s Honor Code Policies regarding programming assignments. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.

Accommodations for Disabilities

If you have a documented learning disability or other condition that may affect academic performance you should: 1) make sure this documentation is on file with the Office for Disability Services to determine the accommodations you need; and 2) talk with me to discuss your accommodation needs.


Students must use their MasonLIVE email account to receive important University information, including messages related to this class. See MasonLive for more information.

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