Visual Interface Design


Official Course Description
Intended for HCI double majors, this is the spring offering of 51-421 Introduction to Visual Interface Design. This course highlights the role that visual interface designers play in the multi-disciplinary attempt to bridge the gap between functionality and usability and to introduce students to some of the unique challenges of designing within the realm of a digital, interactive medium.

Spring 2005
MM 227
MW 10:30-11:50

Dan Saffer, Instructor
Phi-Hong Ha, TA
"Office:" MM 215
Office Hours: By Appointment

Unofficial Course Description
The course title is a misnomer. This class isn’t only about visual interface; in fact, it’s not even primarily about visual interface. It’s about interface and interaction design: how the features and functions of a product get translated into something humans find usable, useful, and desirable.

Basic Syllabus

Part I: The Fundamentals of Interaction and Interface Design


Design Basics
"Good Design in the Digital Age"  (pdf) by Dick Buchanan

"Action, Interaction, Reaction" by Nico MacDonald from Blueprint Magazine

"Attractive Things Work Better" (pdf) by Don Norman

"So You Want to Be an Interaction Designer" by Robert Reimann


Interaction Design Fundamentals
"First Principles of Interaction Design" by Bruce Tognazzini

"Knowing What To Do" by Don Norman from The Design of Everyday Things

"But How, Donald, Tell Us How?: On the creation of meaning in interaction design through feedforward and inherent feedback"  (pdf) by Stephan Wensveen, Kees Overbeeke, and Tom Djajadiningrat

"First Principles" by Christina Wodtke from Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web


Visual Interface Design Fundamentals
"Designing Look and Feel" by Alan Cooper and Robert Reimann from About Face 2.0

"Color for Coders" by Jason Beaird

"An Introduction to Type" by Nadav Savio

"Design Eye for the Usability Guy" by the Design Fab Five


Beyond the Desktop
"The Computer for the 21st Century" by Mark Weiser

"Designing Calm Technology" by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown

"Making the world calmer through ambient technology" by IBM

"Monofunction vs. Polyfunction" by John Maeda


Design Process(es)
"Meet the Elements"  (pdf) by Jesse James Garrett

"Alan Cooper and the Goal-Directed Design Process" by Hugh Dubberly from AIGA Journal of Design for the Network Economy, vol 1, no. 2

"The Interactive Development Process" by Nathan Shedroff

"The Use of Narrative in Interaction Design" by Nancy Broden, Marisa Gallagher, and Jonathan Woytek


Physical Cube
Digital Cube
1000 Floor Elevator
Website and Desktop Widgets
Ambient Device


Part II: Applied User-Centered Design

"Design Research: Why You Need It" by Steve Calde

“Qualitative Methods: From Boring to Brilliant” by Christopher Ireland from Design Research

“Those People” by Christina Wodtke from Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web

“Modeling Users: Personas and Goals” by Alan Cooper and Robert Reimann from About Face 2.0

Communication Device


Part III: Adaptive Design

"Components of Adaptive Worlds" by John Rheinfrank, Shelley Evenson, and Don Chartier

"Insanely Great, or Just Good Enough?" by Dan Hill

"Automatically Personalizing User Interfaces" (pdf) by Daniel S. Weld, Corin Anderson, Pedro Domingos, Oren Etzioni, Krzysztof Gajos, Tessa Lau, Steve Wolfman

Adaptive Device or Application



PDF Version of Syllabus (76k)

Five Easy Pieces (56k pdf)

Communication Device (48k pdf)

Adaptive Product (32k pdf)