Ben Tsai

My First Course(ra)

I’ve started an online course on HCI offered through Coursera. It’s led by Scott Klemmer of Standford University. My initial experience of the site and the course has been good. You can speed up the playback rate of the lectures, which is a big plus. The total lecture time for this week was about 40 minutes, which is certainly manageable. Subtitles are provided, as well as a transcription of the lecture. There are quick quizzes in the middle of the lecture which help keep you honest in terms of paying attention.

I just finished watching the first week’s lectures, which provided an introduction to the topic of HCI: a history of the field, prototyping, and evaluating designs.

The Power of Prototyping #

They’re meant to be incomplete. You can think of them as a question, in physical form. As such, you will build different kinds of prototypes to ask (and answer) different kinds of questions:

It’s a vehicle for communication.


One example he offered was a prototype for the original Palm Pilot. The designer created a prototype that was simply a pocket-sized block of wood. When the situation arose, he would pull the board out of his pocket and pretend to input information into it. This process helped them answer the question, What size should it be?

Evaluating Designs #

The lecturer gave a whirlwind tour of a handful of techniques you can use to evaluate a design: usability studies, surveys, observation, to name a few. This is something I hope to learn from this course. Without any formal training, the only basis I have when evaluating designs is my intuition. While I’m sure this has some value, I know there are established metrics and principles which can be applied to better quantify the effectiveness of a design.

First Assignment #

In this course, we actually have assignments. I’m glad they’ve provided the opportunity to implement something real that will be evaluated and graded. I’m just not sure if I’ll have the motivation to do them. This first one focuses on Needfinding (a new term to me). It involves choosing a design brief, which is something like a theme or problem you want to solve, and then physically going out to gather data by observing and interviewing three people outside of your field.

The design briefs all sound very interesting. They are areas that I generally think about. The first is Change, and it has to do with using technology to help people make changes in their life. Things like FitBit, BodyMedia, quantified-self, Lift, Nike+ come to mind. The second brief is Glance, which addresses information overload. How do we display information that is relevant to the user? (Think Prismatic, dashboards, widgets). The last area is Time. Design something that changes the way people interact with time. Two examples from the course itself are Qlocktwo and Sleep Cycle.

The assignment part is where it gets trickier—who am I going to survey? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of the barista at Commonplace, the butcher at WholeFoods, and a pizza-maker. I’ll have to think more about this, and look at what would actually work.

Friday, September 28, 2012