CSE 440: Introduction to HCI

Winter 2022 Syllabus

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to human-computer interaction and the design process. Students will learn methods and skills for designing and prototyping interactive systems. The course covers a design process from the initial formulation of a design problem to creation of digital prototypes. Importantly, this class does not involve coding, but fully focuses on the design process.

The class structure is a mix of lectures, hands-on activities, and design critiques by peers and course staff. The course is overwhelmingly organized around a group project, in which students:

  • Ideate and propose design problems
  • Study existing design practices and challenges
  • Explore potential design opportunities and tradeoffs
  • Evaluate and iterate upon a design to improve it
  • Communicate the problem and resulting design

Learning Objectives

  • Process-focused perspective on interaction design
  • Design research methods and skills
  • Task-focused scenario development, sketching, and storyboarding
  • Rapid prototyping and iteration
  • Critical perspective on design solutions

Basic Information

Course Staff:

Contact: Please do not email us separately; instead, email all instructors at cse440-staff@cs.washington.edu. Course staff will try to respond to emails within 24 hours. If you have an urgent matter, please place “URGENT” in the subject line of the email. We cannot guarantee that we will respond immediately to urgent emails, but we will do our best. 

Class Time & Location: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 10:00AM-11:20AM, Location: OUG 136 (Zoom for the first week, see links on Canvas)

Section Times & Locations:

  • A: Fridays, 10:30 AM - 11:20 AM, Zoom until further notice (Rock, Lucy)
  • B: Fridays, 11:30 AM - 12:20 PM, Zoom until further notice (Rock, Lucy)
  • C: Fridays, 12:30 PM - 1:20 PM, Zoom until further notice (Qisheng, Yadi)
  • D: Fridays, 1:30 PM - 2:20 PM, Zoom until further notice (Qisheng, Yadi)

Office Hours:

  • Katharina, Wednesdays 1:30 - 2:30 PM, on Zoom (https://washington.zoom.us/j/91611864053)
  • Rock and Qisheng offer additional office hours by appointment. Please email cse440-staff@cs.washington.edu with a few times that work for you. 

Course Structure

Attendance and Participation

We will take attendance and monitor for your active participation both in class and sections. Your attendance will count towards your participation grade and may impact your contribution to the group project (details in grading policy below).

Why? This is a very hands-on class in which we will alternate between lectures and group exercises in class and in sections. You will be expected to take part in interactive discussions, group presentations and critique, breakout activities, etc. In short, this is not your usual class! We require that students attend every class and section. Please be on time to all classes and sections as your fellow group members will otherwise be waiting for you to start working on your shared project. Likewise, please do not plan to leave before class ends. Thanks for working with us to make this class a great experience for all!

If you are unable to attend due to sickness or a family emergency, please contact the course staff AND your group members in advance in order for your absence to be excused.

Update for pandemic times

Will there be remote attendance?

Expect to attend every class in person. However, since we are still in a pandemic, there may be reasons why you may not feel comfortable coming to class in person. If you are feeling any symptoms or you need to quarantine after an exposure, but you are otherwise able to attend the class synchronously, please reach out to the staff to receive permission to participate remotely for a specific class or a period of time. If you are unsure about whether you should come in or not, definitely reach out to us to ask! We will do our best to be accommodating.

For those folks who do get permission, we will have a live Zoom meeting where you can join from a remote location. From the Zoom meeting you will be able to listen to the lecture and participate in any in-class activities on your own. You can also ask questions via the Zoom chat, and a TA will be monitoring and can respond to you in chat but you will not be able to use your microphone to speak up, and the instructor will not be able to monitor anything happening in Zoom. Once any group activities begin, the Zoom meeting will end, and you can join your group’s activities via a video call with one of your group members. Zoom links for all lectures can be found in Canvas in the Zoom tab. Remember that this option is only for people who have received permission from the staff to attend remotely for a designated period of time due to an issue related to the pandemic. If you have not gotten permission to participate remotely, any attendance and participation in Zoom will not count towards your participation grade.

Will there be recordings? We will record the parts of the class that cover lecture content and will also post lecture slides online. However, we reiterate that much of this class is interactive and includes discussions, group activities, and other interactive elements which will not be captured in the recording. You can use the recordings and slides to review content covered in class, but please do not rely on being able to do so as you will miss an integral part of the class experience.

Materials to Bring to Each Class

It will be helpful to have a few sheets of white paper and pencils/pens available since most classes will involve some kind of sketching on paper. You are welcome to use online tools and/or tablets for these exercises if you feel like they let you sketch as you would on a piece of paper. Some activities will also require a smartphone with a camera you can use to take a photo of what you’ve sketched and upload it online if you do use paper. Please try to keep the phone away from you otherwise though :) Finally, please bring a laptop to class as sometimes we have in-class activities that involve using your web browser. But we encourage you to not use your laptop (unless you are taking notes) outside of these activities.

Online Software

We do not teach how to use specific software packages in this class, and we usually also do not require the use of specific software, but instead leave this up to each student and team to decide. 

That said, in previous offerings of the class, students often found Figma, a collaborative interface design tool, useful for supporting design critiques. Once we have established teams, each team will get a board on which they can upload any design artifacts they produce. Fellow classmates and the teaching team will be able to see your progress and provide feedback. We may also be using the tool Marvel to support user playtests of your prototypes.

In addition to Figma and Marvel, we will occasionally recommend the use of Miro, an online visual collaboration tool that supports sketching, brainstorming, and online white board etc. Teams should agree with each other on which tool to use. 

Our Expectations

Be Professional

  • Give helpful critique and feedback to other teams. You can be both constructive and kind when giving critique.
  • Engage in peer learning & support.
  • Show up on time and actively participate.
  • Don't interrupt others, don't plagiarize.

Be Respectful

Outside of in-class activities that require the use of your laptop or phone, please keep this in mind:

  • Laptops? Fine if used for taking notes. (But I highly recommend taking notes on paper!)
  • Phones? Nope - please keep this out of your hands and out of sight.
  • Keep in mind that when you are using your laptop to browse other things on the internet, you are also distracting the people sitting around you!

All of these things are important during a lecture but are also important when another group is presenting their work! Give others your full and undivided attention, and they will do the same for you.

A Note on Diversity and Respectful Conduct

This course welcomes all students of all backgrounds. The computer science and computer engineering industries have significant lack of diversity. This is due to a lack of sufficient past efforts by the field toward even greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Allen School seeks to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment for our community and our field. You should expect and demand to be treated by your classmates and the course staff with respect. If any incident occurs that challenges this commitment to a supportive, diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment, please let the instructor know so the issue can be addressed.

Disability, Religious, and Family Accommodations

If you have any questions about disability or religious accommodations, please refer to university policies regarding disability accommodations or religious accommodations. Feel free to also contact us. For any family accommodations, please do not hesitate to contact the course staff, we're here for you. 

Thank you all for working with us on making this remote learning experience as smooth as possible! 

Group Project

Much of the work involved in this course revolves around a group project. You will be in charge of forming a group of 3-4 people in your section near the start of the quarter. The first section meeting will be dedicated to getting to know your fellow section members and finding a group.

Project Theme

This offering’s project theme will be “Designing for Diversity”! You will be encouraged to design for groups of people who are different from yourself. Try to design for inclusiveness, such as by connecting people from different backgrounds. Computers and the Internet have changed many people’s lives. However, many applications that we use in our daily lives are developed by Westerners and embed the developers’ beliefs in what is useful and usable. For example, Facebook is extremely popular in many Western countries, but has failed to attract a large user base in Russia. Facebook is also not as popular with elderly and teens as it is with people between 25 and 45 of age. Similarly, Uber and Lyft have gained much attraction with economically prosperous young professionals, but are often seen with suspicion in economically strained parts of the US. Most of these problems in designing adequate technology and gaining market share arise because designers and developers can be insufficiently aware of the beliefs, preferences, needs, and prior experiences of people who are different from themselves. Over the course of the quarter, you will work as a group on designing a system to an activity or relationship within the particular context of a group of people that is not particularly well supported by current tools. Example groups that you could design for are:

  • People experiencing homelessness or homeless communities
  • Minority or minoritized populations
  • People with disabilities
  • Refuge communities
  • Elderly or senior living communities
  • Local business owners
  • Workers
  • ...

Importantly, your team should try to pick a user group that you all do not consider yourself a member of; this is so that you will not rely too much on your own experiences during user research.

As part of your project, you will need to define what a specific group's or community’s needs are that your project tries to support and what activity you would like to design that might help address this need. Think about how that activity is currently supported via technology, what doesn’t work about current ways of supporting it, and how your solution will do this better. The specificity of addressing a particular group of people allows you to deeply think about what makes the group unique and how you would best want to support them. So, dive in and see what you can come up with!

Here are examples of prior projects from this class (in response to different project topics):

As part of your project, you will need to define what a specific community’s needs are that your project can help support, and what activity you would like to design to help address this need. While your design may not be able to address this head on, it may be useful to consider the conditions that allowed a community's difficulties and stresses to arise while conducting user research and learning from your target group. Think about how the activity you chose is currently supported via technology (or not), what doesn’t work about current ways of supporting it, and how your solution will do this better. Try not to let digital technology get in the way of the community's goals and needs; instead, try to use it as a supportive tool that enables the community's goals. Finally, be specific in the community and specific target users you select! The specificity of addressing a particular group of people allows you to deeply think about what makes the group unique and how you would best want to support them. So, dive in and see what you can come up with!

Project Structure

Projects are organized around four assignments, each consisting of several milestones:

  • Assignment 1: Project Brainstorm
  • Assignment 2: Getting the Right Design
  • Assignment 3: Getting the Design Right
  • Assignment 4: Communicating the Design

Here are links to projects from prior offerings that can give you a feel for the type and scope of projects students have embarked on:

Note that we have significantly revised this class and details of assignments have changed since prior offerings. The websites and reports linked above do not reflect the assignments of the current class. For example, prior offerings of this class required a website for the final project, while this year the assignments do not include a website. Also note that these samples are intended to illustrate a variety of approaches, none of which is intended to be ideal or exemplary. Be sure to understand and carefully consider project requirements and feedback from the course staff in the context of your own work.


Outside of participation in activities during class and the assignments related to the group project, this class will also feature an exam towards the end of the quarter. More information will be provided about the format of this exam. The subject of the exam will be on the topics covered in class lectures.


Strive to do good work because you care about your own opportunities to learn, including the opportunities this course provides in working with a group on an intensive project.

The overall course grade will be computed as follows (summing up to 100 points):

Point Breakdown

  • Group project (60 points total)
    • Assignment 1: Project Brainstorm (5 points)
    • Assignment 2: Getting the Right Design (20 points)
    • Assignment 3: Getting the Design Right (20 points)
    • Assignment 4, Communicating the Design (15 points)
  • Exam (25 points)
  • Participation (15 points total)
    • Attendance in lecture (5 points)
    • Participation in class, including participating in activities, pair feedback, and group work (5 points)
    • Attendance and participation in section, including participating in presentations,  group work, and giving feedback (5 points)

Each assignment will also provide a point breakdown intended to convey how it will be graded. Design is an inherently subjective practice, and so grading in this course is necessarily subjective. The stated project requirements are the minimum, leaving room for groups to wow us with your work.

Because the course is designed around feedback on project milestones, grades given to those milestones indicate that you have invested sufficient effort and insight at the time of the milestone. You will get feedback and are expected to continue acting upon that feedback in your design process. The bulk of project grades is therefore attached to the final deliverables, which are evaluated on their quality.

We expect groups to take collective responsibility and to resolve any coordination issues. The course staff is always happy to make suggestions with regard to your effort and coordination. If an issue needs to be raised with the course staff, we expect it to be raised early enough to be addressed. If necessary, we reserve the ability to adjust an individual’s participation and assignment grades based on their demonstrated contribution.


Submissions should be in PDF format (i.e., not plain text, not Word). The PDF should be printable, containing everything we need to review and grade the assignment (e.g., your names). We will use Canvas for groups to submit their assignments and receive feedback. 

Late Policy

Generally, we expect that all assignments will be turned in on time according to their deadline on Canvas. This is a fast-paced course, with many elements of the project depending on prior elements. Similarly, the course staff's ability to give feedback relies on timely submissions (e.g., course staff will often review your submission quickly after they are submitted to be ready for activities in section or lecture).

With that being said, if your group feels that you could really benefit from an extension or there is some kind of emergency impacting your ability to turn in assignments, please contact us BEFORE the submission deadline. We will do our best to be flexible and work with you to come up with a plan so that your group stays on track. Except in extreme circumstances, we will typically not be able to give an extension of more than 1 day.

Contribution Statements

Please discuss and submit a personal contribution statement every time that you submit a group assignment. Include this contribution statement at the top of your submission, along with the names of your group members. Please note that we will not grade submissions where this statement is missing.

An example contribution statement for Assignment 1b is:

  • Name 1: 40%, researched the background of the problem, outlined the content of the document, wrote the first version of one paragraph, also selected the images to be included
  • Name 2: 10%, proof-read the PDF, fixed several typos
  • Name 3: 25%, wrote the first version of the background section, made sure the final version got submitted
  • Name 4: 25%, organized the group meeting, researched the background of the problem, contributed to the formatting of the text

Please know that we do not expect everyone to contribute equally to each assignment, but you should try to work as a team and support each other. Likewise, you should work together as a team when discussing each other's contributions. Please come to us early if you are dealing with unresolved issues regarding unequal contributions. During the quarter, we may solicit private feedback regarding group dynamics from members.


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