CPSC544-Course outline

Course staff: Dr. Heather O’Brien (instructor) + Sang-Wha Sien (teaching assistant) + Isabelle Rash (teaching assistant)

Term: September 2021 – December 2021

Time/place: T/Th 11:00 – 12:20, DFP Classroom, FSC 2300  (First class: Thursday, September 19, 2021), 

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 can lead to negative outcomes such as frustration, lost time, and errors. The role of design is crucial 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 and abilities, 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 an iterative process called design thinking. This process draws heavily on fundamental human computer interaction (HCI) methods.


CPSC 544 is the first core course of the Designing for People (DFP) program (new program started in Sept 2017 (http://dfp.ubc.ca), and is also open to non-DFP graduate students who are curious about how to design effective interactive systems.


The audience for the course is students registered in the DFP CREATE Program. Non-DFP graduate students who are curious about how to design effective interactive systems may be admitted with permission of the instructor.


This course will be offered in-person; class will be live-streamed, particularly in the beginning weeks of term, to accommodate students arriving in Vancouver in late September or who, due to illness, cannot come to campus. Classes will consist of lectures, in-class activities (mostly with your Design Project groups), and student presentations. Students are required to complete course readings before coming to class and Design Project groups will need to collaborate outside of class on deliverables. Course staff will provide some suggestions for various tools that can be used for different aspects of the project.


All communication will go through Canvas (canvas.ubc.ca). (Only matters that are of a personal sensitive nature should go through email to the instructors.)

Office hours

Dr. Heather O’Brien (Zoom): Tuesdays, 2:30-3:30 PM

Sang-Wha Sien (Zoom): Thursdays, 2:00-3:00 PM

Learning Goals
Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Gain experience in human-centered design and the design thinking process, including methods for understanding people, exploring the problem area in-depth, identifying the right problem, ideating potential solutions, and creating and evaluating prototypes.
  2. Identify and use appropriate data gathering/design methods when assessing user needs in different stages of the design process.
  3. Become familiar with different frameworks and approaches to design.
  4. Describe HCI techniques, frameworks or processes in the context of their purpose, e.g.,providing structure for understanding tasks, identifying interaction problems, etc.
  5. Collect and analyze information about a specific group of people to appropriately define their activities, experiences, and needs.
  6. Understand the relevance of mental models to usability problems in design.
  7. Gain experience with tools and methods for interface prototyping and in constructing design solutions focused on accounting for human abilities.
  8. Engage with research papers to effectively identify, apply, and propose appropriate design methods and data collection/analysis techniques when investigating a potential research problem.

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)    10%
Participation (in-class activities, discussions, peer review) and Attendance    10%
Project (approximately 6 milestones/design critiques)    80%

Unless otherwise noted on the page for an individual deliverable, the late penalty will be 5% per day.


Participation relates to meaningful contributions to the class in the context of in-class,
discussions, activities, and feedback on peers’ deliverables.


Assignments will be marked using the evaluative criteria provided in the rubrics for each Assignment (see CANVAS).

Required Materials     

Readings for the course will be provided in a separate document, “Course Reading List” and posted on Canvas. Individual readings may be accessed by clicking on “Library Online Course Reserves” (LOCR), located in the menu on the left of the screen. You may also access them directly through the UBC Library.

Covid Safety in the Classroom

Masks: Masks are required for all indoor classes, as per the BC Public Health Officer orders. For our in- person meetings in this class, it is important that all of us feel as comfortable as possible engaging in class activities while sharing an indoor space. For the purposes of this order, the term “masks” refers to medical and non-medical masks that cover our noses and mouths. You will need to wear a medical or non-medical mask for the duration of our class meetings, for your own protection, and the safety and comfort of everyone else in the class. You may be asked to remove your mask briefly for an ID check for an exam, but otherwise, your mask should cover your nose and mouth. Please do not eat in class. If you need to drink water/coffee/tea/etc. please keep your mask on between sips. Please note that there are some people who cannot wear a mask. These individuals are equally welcome in our class.

Vaccination: If you have not yet had a chance to get vaccinated against Covid-19, vaccines are available to you, free, and on campus: http://www.vch.ca/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine. The higher the rate of vaccination in our community overall, the lower the chance of spreading this virus. You are an important part of the UBC community. Please arrange to get vaccinated if you have not already done so.

Seating in class: To reduce the risk of Covid transmission, please sit in a consistent area of the classroom each day. This will minimize your contacts and will still allow for the pedagogical methods planned for this class to help your learning.

Your personal health
If you’re sick, it’s important that you stay home – no matter what you think you may be sick with (e.g., cold, flu, other).

  • A daily self-health assessment is required before attending campus. Complete the self- assessment for Covid symptoms using this tool: https://bc.thrive.health/covid19/en
  • Do not come to class if you have Covid symptoms, have recently tested positive for Covid, or are required to quarantine. You can check this website to find out if you should self-isolate or self-monitor: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/self-isolation#Who. Your precautions will help reduce risk and keep everyone safer.
  • In this course…
    • You can miss two researcher journals
    • Team presentations will be graded as complete/incomplete in case a group member is unable to be present
    • Due to the sizable group project component of this course, teams should discuss their contributions toward deliverables in light of the changing Covid environment and include this in the Team Contract.

If you do miss class because of illness:

  • Make a connection early in the term to another student or a group of students in the class. You can help each other by sharing notes.
  • Class will be streamed so that if you cannot attend in person, but feel well enough to participate, you may do so. The instructor and teaching assistants will do their best to modify class activities for online engagement and strive to make all students feel included.
  • Consult the class resources on Canvas, including assigned readings. We will post a pdf of class slides and learning activities.
  • Come to virtual office hours.
  • If you are concerned that you will need to miss a particular key activity due to illness, contact the instructor to discuss.
  • For additional information about academic concessions, see the UBC policy here: http://www.calendar.ubc.ca/vancouver/index.cfm?tree=3,329,0,0

Instructor health
I will do my best to stay well, but if I am ill, develop Covid symptoms, or test positive for Covid, then I will not come to class. If that happens, here’s what you can expect:

  • One of your TAs may be able to step in and lead the class or you may treat it as a working class and spend time on your team project deliverables
  • If I am well enough to teach, but am taking precautions to avoid infecting others, I will conduct the class via zoom synchronously. If this happens, you will receive an email via Canvas telling you how to join the class. You can anticipate that this would very likely be a last-minute
    email. Our classroom will still be available for you to sit and attend an online session, in this (hopefully rare) instance.
  • You may receive a message from me with a recording of the lecture material for you to watch on your own time.


Policies and Resources to Support Student Success

UBC provides resources to support student learning and to maintain healthy lifestyles but recognizes that sometimes crises arise and so there are additional resources to access including those for survivors of sexual violence. UBC values respect for the person and ideas of all members of the academic community. Harassment and discrimination are not tolerated nor is suppression of academic freedom. UBC provides appropriate accommodation for students with disabilities and for religious and cultural observances. UBC values academic honesty and students are expected to acknowledge the ideas generated by others and to uphold the highest academic standards in all of their actions. Details of the policies and how to access support are available here (https://senate.ubc.ca/policies-resources-support-student-success).

Academic Integrity

The academic enterprise is founded on honesty, civility, and integrity. As members of this enterprise, all students are expected to know, understand, and follow the codes of conduct regarding academic integrity. At the most basic level, this means submitting only original work done by you and acknowledging all sources of information or ideas and attributing them to others as required. This also means you should not cheat, copy, or mislead others about what is your work.

Violations of academic integrity (i.e., misconduct) lead to the breakdown of the academic enterprise, and therefore serious consequences arise and harsh sanctions are imposed. For example, incidences of plagiarism or cheating may result in a mark of zero on the assignment or exam and more serious consequences may apply when the matter is referred to the Office of the Dean. Careful records are kept in order to monitor and prevent recurrences. A more detailed description of academic integrity, including the University’s policies and procedures, may be found in the UBC Calendar: Student Conduct and Discipline.

Academic Accommodation for Students with Disabilities

Academic accommodations help students with a disability or ongoing medical condition overcome challenges that may affect their academic success. Students requiring academic accommodations must register with the Centre for Accessibility (previously known as Access & Diversity). The Centre will determine that student’s eligibility for accommodations in accordance with Policy 73: Academic Accommodation for Students with Disabilities. Academic accommodations are not determined by your instructors, and instructors should not ask you about the nature of your disability or ongoing medical condition, or request copies of your disability documentation. However, your instructor may consult with the Centre for Accessibility should the accommodations affect the essential learning outcomes of a course.

Conflicting Responsibilities

UBC recognizes that students may occasionally have conflicting responsibilities that affect their ability to attend class or examinations. These may include: representing the University, the province or the country in a competition or performance; serving in the Canadian military; or observing a religious rite. They may also include a change in a student’s situation that unexpectedly requires that student to work or take responsibility for the care of a family member, if these were not pre-existing situations at the start of term.

Students with conflicting responsibilities have a duty to arrange their course schedules so as to avoid, as much as possible, any conflicts with course requirements. As soon as conflicting responsibilities arise, students must notify either their instructor(s) or their Faculty Advising Office (e.g., Arts Academic Advising), and can request academic concession. Instructors may not be able to comply with all such requests if the academic standards and integrity of the course or program would be compromised. Varsity student-athletes should discuss any anticipated and unavoidable regular-season absences with the instructor at the start of term, and provide notice of playoff or championship absences in writing as soon as dates are confirmed.

Religious observance may preclude attending classes or examinations at certain times. In accordance with the UBC Policy on Religious Holidays, students who wish to be accommodated for religious reasons must notify their instructors in writing at least two weeks in advance. Instructors provide opportunity for such students to make up work or examinations missed without penalty.

Diversity and Inclusion

In an ideal world, academic research would be representative of the voices from the diverse individuals who engage in academic pursuits. However, historically, academic research is built on a small subset of privileged voices. In this class, we will make an effort to read papers from a diverse group of designers/human-computer interaction researchers/scientists, but limits still exist on this diversity. We acknowledge that it is possible that there may be both overt and covert biases in the material due to the lens with which it was written. Integrating a diverse set of experiences is important for a more comprehensive understanding.

Please contact us (in person or electronically) or submit anonymous feedback if you have any suggestions to improve the quality of the course materials.

Furthermore, we would like to create a learning environment for our students that supports a diversity of thoughts, perspectives and experiences, and honors your identities (including race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, ability, etc.) To help accomplish this:

  • If you have a name and/or set of pronouns that differ from those that appear in your official UBC records, please let us know.
  • If you feel like your performance in the class is being impacted by your experiences outside of class, please don’t hesitate to come and talk with us. We want to be a resource for you. Remember that you can also submit anonymous feedback (which will lead to us making a general announcement to the class, if necessary to address your concerns). If you prefer to speak with someone outside of the course, the Equity and Inclusion Office at UBC is an excellent resource.
  • We (like many people) are still in the process of learning about diverse perspectives and identities. If something was said in class (by anyone) that made you feel uncomfortable, please talk to us about it. (Again, anonymous feedback is always an option.)
  • As a participant in course discussions and your course project, you should also strive to honor the diversity of your classmates.