What is Participatory Design?

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and User-Centered Design are multidisciplinary areas. HCI is the intersection between the social and behavioral sciences, on the one hand, and information technology, on the other. User-Centered Design combines areas of anthropology, cognitive science, human factors, and graphic design.

This course is designed to teach students how to create programs that are intuitive for the user's needs. The material teaches students ethnography techniques borrowed from anthropology for gathering data about the users and the way they approach their work. It teaches ways of grounding their design decisions in the data they collected through modeling and visualization. It helps students recognize ways of being creative with their design ideas. And it teaches them about interface evaluation and iterative refinement through paper prototype testing with real users.

In addition to theoretical information via lectures, students get hands on experience with in-class assignments and a semester long project. A key aspect of User-Centered Design is learning how to communicate and observe real users. The exercises and the project provide experiences to help learn skills of interviewing and observation. Students then model the data gathered, consolidate the individual models to a user population, brainstorm design ideas, test a paper prototype, and create a high fidelity prototype.

Our approach to this course includes experiencing how to work with non-technical users who are unlikely to share the same conceptual understanding of the application. We employ volunteers from the introductory computer science course to act as users for the project application. This provides a rich learning experience for User-Centered Design.