CSE 440: Introduction to HCI

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 and instead, 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:

Class Time & Location: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 10:00 AM - 11:20 AM, Location: OUG 136

Section Times & Locations:

  • C: Fridays, 12:30 PM - 1:20 PM in MGH 058
  • D: Fridays, 1:30 PM - 2:20 PM in MGH 058

Office Hours:

  • Jesse: By Appointment on Mondays
  • Avery: Thursdays, 1-2 PM in CSE2 153
  • Simona: Wednesdays, 2-3 PM, CSE2 151

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 CSE 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 class, please contact the course staff AND your group members in advance in order for your absence to be excused.

LIMITED Zoom Option

Will there be remote attendance?

Expect to attend every class in person. However, if you find yourself feeling sick before class, it's better for everyone if you stay home! In those cases, reach out to the course staff and we'll give you permission to attend remotely for that class. Likewise, if there are other unavoidable reasons you cannot attend in person but can still attend synchronously, you can also email the staff with some context and request to attend remotely. However, "I don't really feel like coming to campus today" is not a valid reason to attend remotely. 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 only 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. 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.

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.


This is an unusual CSE course, and will likely require you to engage in ways very different from how you've engaged with other classes, including performing design critique, sketching, making paper prototypes, and much more. With that comes a lot of places where students might feel like they could use additional accommodation, whether you have formal accommodation requests or not.

Though we've worked to make this content as approachable and accessible as possible to everyone, please do not hesitate to reach out to the course staff if you feel uncomfortable with any of the activities or practices in this class and we'll be happy to work through that with you and accommodate you as best as possible. We also ask that everyone be respectful of accommodations made for others in the class, including accessibility practices which will be established at the start of the quarter.

If you have any questions about disability or religious accommodations, please also feel free to refer to university policies regarding disability accommodations or religious accommodations.

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

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 quarter, all projects will be related to the following topic:

Designing for Inclusion: How can we make existing systems more inclusive and approachable to new audiences?

Guiding Questions:

  • How do systems currently exclude certain audiences? How do we amend that?
  • How can we make it easier for a new or inexperienced user to engage for the first time?

Additional context on the project theme will be discussed in our first lecture and can be found on the Assignments page.

Project Structure

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

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. 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 a final exam on May 14, in person in our regular class time. The exam will center on demonstrating your understanding of the high-level learning objectives discussed in lecture throughout the quarter. Each lecture will begin by clearly stating the specific learning objectives for that day; these are the ONLY topics that are eligible to be on the exam.

The goal of this exam is not to test your memory; instead, we want to see how well you understand the principles that underlie how we do design.


This quarter's grading scheme will look a little bit different from prior quarters'. As this course continues to evolve, the instructors are looking for ways to better apply what we teach to the structure of the class itself, to really motivate high-quality design practice. However, "high-quality design practice" can look very different coming from different people; so this quarter, grading will be split between universal "Core Content" and more personalized engagement with design practice, through a system we're calling "EXP"

Core Content

The bulk of your grade in this class will come from your Group Project, which you will submit milestones for each week, and your performance on the Exam. Additionally, you will receive a Participation grade at the end of the quarter, which will be calculated based on your attendance, your involvement in Section activities, and your contribution statements across the quarter.

Core Content Score Breakdown:

  • Course Project: 65%
    • Assignment 1: 5%
    • Assignment 2: 25%
    • Assignment 3: 20%
    • Assingment 4: 15%
  • Exam: 25%
  • Participation: 10%

In total, the Core Content will account for 3.7/4.0 of your final score in the class.

The EXP System

As we dive into design process throughout the quarter, you’ll quickly learn that good design involves following the right steps, but great design requires an extra layer of thoughtfulness and extension beyond simply “checking all the boxes”. In an effort to reflect this in this course’s grading scheme, we’re introducing a new element to the course called EXP.

EXP, which can be short for a lot of things– Experience Points, Extension Points, Excellence Points, and so on– will be a set of additional points you can earn throughout the quarter by engaging in great design practice.

The Core Content of the course (described above) constitute 3.7 of your final grade in the course– by checking all the boxes, you can end the quarter with a good design and a good grade.

To score above a 3.7, you’ll need to earn EXP throughout the quarter. There will be many opportunities to earn EXP, both individually and in your project groups, and the requirements for getting points will vary. (More details below.)

Ok, but what does that actually mean, grade-wise?

There are two ways to think about this: One is viewing the Core Content of the class as being out of a total of 3.7, and separately accumulating EXP to get a bonus of up to 0.4 at the end of the quarter (Model 1). (This is the model I’d recommend using for thinking about grades here.)

If that feels confusing, you can boil everything down to percentages out of 100 for the class, but those percentage numbers do get a little ugly (Model 2).

Mental Model 1: "The Core" + "EXP Bonus"

The Core
Totals to 100%, which is 3.7

EXP Bonus
Totals to a "bonus" of up to 0.4

  • Course Project: 65%
    • Assignment 1: 5%
    • Assignment 2: 25%
    • Assignment 3: 20%
    • Assingment 4: 15%
  • Exam: 25%
  • Participation: 10%

Conversion rate: 5EXP = +0.1

Mental Model 2: Simple Percentages, But With Ugly Numbers

  • Course Project: 60.125%
    • Assignment 1: 4.625%
    • Assignment 2: 23.125%
    • Assignment 3: 18.5%
    • Assignment 4: 13.875%
  • Exam: 23.125%
  • Participation: 9.25%
  • 15 EXP: 7.5%
  • (Possible +0.5% extra credit for each EXP earned above 15, with a cap at +2.5%)

You may notice that it’s theoretically possible to score up to a 4.1 in this class– but unfortunately, UW won’t let me give anyone above a 4.0. So what this really means is that there are chances for everyone to make up points you may have lost throughout the quarter.

How to Earn EXP

As a group

For starters, every assignment milestone can earn all members of a group 1EXP by demonstrating EXceptional thoughtfulness or creativity. This is, naturally, hard to objectively define, so our operationalized definition is "you did something unique in your design work that impressed, fascinated, or surprised the course staff." The course staff is a team of experts in HCI & Design, with years of design experience and a collective 8 quarters of experience with 440; we know something that is unusual, exciting, and good when we see it. Do something that stands out with your submission, and the point is yours!

Assignments may also have optional “EXtended Objectives” to push your designs even further. These Objectives are meant to be completed as a group, and will earn all participating group members the specified amount of EXP.

With each assignment, you will be able to submit a document stating what Extended Objectives (if any) you completed, and a brief case for why you think something you did in this assignment merits an additional point for Exceptional Thoughtfulness & Creativity.


Weekly EXercises

Every week, you can submit one or both of the following for an additional 0.5 EXP (each):

Bring Your Own EXperiences

Did you run a brainstorming activity with your RSO to come up with a new project? Did you conduct design research with your volunteer org to better understand how to support your audience?

Throughout the quarter, you may encounter situations outside of this class where you can apply what you’ve learned– and we’d love to hear about it! Share that experience with us (hopefully with some documentation of it!) and you might just get some EXP for it. (The better the application, the more EXP you’ll earn!)

Isn't this a bit complicated? What's the point of all this?

This system was co-designed by multiple 440 instructors to support two main objectives:

1: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due.

Every quarter, some students blow us away with great design-- despite everyone receiving the same assignment prompts, some groups will very thoughtfully engage with the design principles taught in the course and create excellent designs (some of which continue to be developed after the class is over!). Meanwhile, other students--with no ill intention!--only superficially engage with course material, strictly for the purpose of "checking the boxes" on an assignment. Looking to "just check the boxes" is a totally valid approach (we understand that you're busy and have other classes!), which is why "just checking the boxes" still gets you a 3.7 (a perfectly good grade!). But depth of engagement with course content also deserves to be reflected in a course grade, which the EXP bonus enables.

2: Supporting Diverse Styles of Doing Great Design.

Design is inherently subjective, and subjectivity is difficult to fairly weave into a course. The easy/lazy solution would be to say "all your assignments get receive a subjective 'quality score' to allow the teaching staff to reward what they feel is great design." That's a horrible solution, because then the three members of the course staff unilaterally decide what "great" is, which is definitely not fair. An alternative could be to just create more assignments that require deeper engagement; but that 1) adds stress by adding more deadlines, and 2) still enforces a rigid paradigm of what "great" is.

The system we designed here looks to consider a lot of different ways people might demonstrate great design thinking, without forcing people to adopt a particular design practice that might not be how they best show their engagement. Some people can thoughtfully critique existing designs; others create fantastic visuals to communicate their design; still others can engage with academic research, or experiment with new design research techniques, or-- you get the point.

We want to see you design in the way that best suits you and your skills.

"Bonus": Accessibility

This system was also designed to support accessibility, in many senses of the term. There are brilliant people who freeze up every time they need to do a live presentation. Some design geniuses can hardly draw stick figures. Letting students choose what tasks they want to be evaluated on makes success achievable for a much wider range of students.

Additionally, we also know that different parts of the quarter are busier or more stressful for different people-- with this system, you can choose when (if at all) you want to complete tasks to get EXP, and make that work with your individual schedule. We're working to evenly distribute EXP opportunities throughout the quarter, but you can feel free to frontload your EXP earning or spread it out through the quarter however you see fit.


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).

Contribution Statements

Please write and submit a personal contribution statement using the Contribution Statement Google Form every time that you submit a group assignment. This allows you to personally specify what proportion you contributed to the work done by the group.

An example contribution statement for Assignment 1b is:

  • I contributed 30% of the work towards this assignment. I researched the background of the problem, outlined the content of the document, wrote the first version of one paragraph, and also selected the images to be included.

Please know that we do not expect everyone to contribute equally to each assignment, but across the quarter each group member should have contributed comparable amounts. You should try to work as a team and support each other, but 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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