*This website is still under construction for the 2018 course offering*

CPSC544-Course outline

Course staff: Dr. Joanna McGrenere (instructor) + Dr. Leila Aflatoony

Term: September 2017 – December 2017

Time/place: T/Th 11:00 – 12:20, FSC 2330  (First class: Thurs Sept 7)

Course Overview

People are increasingly surrounded by interactive computational technology systems that are integral to their everyday life. However, poorly designed systems are common, and they can lead to negative outcomes such as frustration, lost time, and errors. The role of design is more crucial than ever before for crafting appropriate systems that truly meet people’s needs, abilities, and expectations. CPSC 544 covers the theories and concepts important for all professionals and researchers that design interactive technology for human use. This course will build common ground across students from a range of backgrounds, so they will have a shared vocabulary and methods to bring into other components of the Designing for People (DFP) program. Designing for People means designing for human experience, abilities, and fallibilities, which requires in-depth engagement of people throughout the design process in order to develop interactive technologies that fit human needs and capabilities. More specifically, the course adopts a human-centered design (HCD) approach and teaches a highly iterative process called design thinking. This process draws heavily on fundamental human computer interaction (HCI) methods. Students will have a chance to practice and hone their abilities through weekly homework in the context of a lightweight project, in-class activities and discussions, critical reflective journals on readings, and a final research proposal paper.


CPSC 544 is the first core course of the Designing for People (DFP) program (new program starting Sept 2017 — web link forthcoming), and is also open to non-DFP graduate students who are curious about how to design effective interactive systems.


While there are no formal prerequisites, the ability to do basic computer programming will be an asset for the prototyping part of the course. Alternate tools that require minimal programming will however be possible.  Further, there will be some coverage of experimental design and analysis, which relies on some basic statistical knowledge.


80 minute discussion- and activity-oriented seminar, twice weekly
Readings based (no textbook); Small group work during lecture time


All communication will go through piazza: piazza.com/ubc.ca/winterterm12017/cpsc544/home. (Only matters that are of a personal sensitive nature should go through email to the instructors.)

Office hours

Joanna McGrenere (ICCS x665): time TBD

Leila Aflatoony (ICCS x669): time TBD


  • Weekly ‘researcher journals’ to critically reflect on the readings.
  • New methods are introduced about every week that students work through on their own or with a small team (homework) and “present” the outcome of applying the method in the context of a lightweight project to the rest of the class in a design critique, approximately every other week.
  • A final research proposal that demonstrates application of design methods to a research problem chosen by each student.

Learning Goals

Upon successful completion of the course, the student will demonstrate the ability to:

  • Use, explain, and gain experience in human-centred design and the design thinking process, including methods for understanding people, exploring the problem area in-depth, identifying the right problem, ideating potential solutions, creating prototypes, and evaluating the prototypes.
  • Identify and use appropriate data gathering/design methods when working through understanding users’ needs in different stages of the design process.
  • Identify different frameworks and approaches to design; e.g. human-centred design vs. user centred design.
  • Describe the central HCI techniques, frameworks or processes, in the context of their purpose: e.g. in providing structure for understanding tasks, identifying interaction problems, design alternatives, and next-step process choices.
  • Collect and analyze information about specific group of people to appropriately define their activities, experiences, and needs: e.g. design and run a small field study or a small experiment.
  • Understand the relevance of mental models of human users (such as cognitive resources, sensory processing) to usability problems in design.
  • Have experience with tools and methods for interface prototyping and construct design solutions focused on accounting for human abilities/limitations.
  • Be familiar with research papers in HCI and be able to effectively identify, apply, and propose appropriate design methods and data collection/analysis techniques when investigating a potential research problem.
  • Be familiar with other newer approaches to design in HCI when designing futuristic computational technologies; e.g. critical design, design fiction, and speculative design.

Tentative Grading  Scheme

Your course mark will be based roughly on the following breakdown. The instructor reserves the right to change this scheme.

Researcher Journal (pre-class preparation on readings)    15%
Participation (in-class activities, discussions, peer review) and Attendance    15%
Lightweight project (approximately 6 milestones/design critiques)    45%
Research proposal    25%

Required  Texts/Materials     

Survey and research articles will be the primary text for the course, chosen from a collection of readings. There is no textbook required.