Course information

CS/ISE 5714: Usability Engineering
MCB 218
Class Time
T R 11:00AM 12:15PM
Final Exam
May 9, 2014 at 10:05AM 12:05PM
The website is updated throughout the semester with information on deadlines, changes to the schedule, presentations, etc. It pays to visit it frequently.
Make sure you configure your account in Piazza to get the most out of the offline interaction in the course.
L12270_14317 at listserv dot vt dot edu


Dr. Manuel A. Pérez-Quiñones
Knowledge Works II 1125
Office hours
Wednesday 10:30am-noon or by appointment

Graduate Teaching Assistant

Yao Wang
KWII, first floor, desk A10
Office hours
Wednesday 2:00pm-4:00pm or by appointment

Textbook and Readings

R. Hartson, P. S. Pyla (2012) "The UX Book", Morgan Kauffman.
W. Lidwell, K. Holden, J. Butler (2003) "Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design", Rockport Publishers, pps. 216. ISBN: 9781592530076. This book is required for one of the homeworks, but you do not have to purchase it. A copy is available at the VT Library on the Reserve Desk.
Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler (2012) "A Project Guide to UX Design," Second Edition. New Riders.
Andy Polaine, Lavrans Løvlie, Ben Reason (2013) "SERVICE DESIGN: From Insight to Implementation," with foreword by John Thackara. Rosenfeld Media.
Kevin Cheng (2012) "See What I Mean: How To Use Comics To Communicate Ideas." Rosenfeld Media.


Although the title of this course is Usability Engineering, the traditional concept of usability is expanded to a broader notion of user experience, including usability, usefulness, and emotional impact.

We present an iterative evaluation-centered UX lifecycle as a lifecycle template intended to be instantiated in many different ways to match the constraints of a particular development project. The UX lifecycle activities we will cover include contextual inquiry and analysis, requirements extraction, design-informing models, design thinking, ideation, sketching, conceptual design, and formative UX evaluation.

Although many software development teams now have roles for a UX engineer or UX specialist, software developers often still have primary responsibility for developing interactive systems. Most software engineers are not trained in UX methods and, therefore, do not have the knowledge, skills, or mindset to include UX methods in their life cycle activities. Many software developers believe that UX engineering is merely UX testing, done near the end of the development process.

It is a goal of this course to help students realize that UX engineering is an ongoing process throughout the full product life cycle, and developing the human-computer interface is not something to be done at the last minute, when the "rest of the system" is finished.

Class time will be split between content-based lectures and in-class exercises to demonstrate techniques and principles and to practice the skills being presented. The part of class time used for lectures will be devoted to highlighting course materials, questions, and discussion. The in-class exercises will be an initial opportunity for experience with the UX development lifecycle activities.

Prerequisites: None.

Class Work


Occasional homework will be assigned as appropriate. Homework due dates are in the calendar. Even if the instructor doesn't announce each homework in class, it’s your job to know when you should be working on one and when they are due.

In-class Exercises

All in-class exercises are team activities tailored to fit the space and time limitations of the classroom. The in-class exercises go with the class lectures and the description of each in-class exercise is at the end of the lecture slides for the corresponding topic. Please be aware of the next in-class exercise coming up and be prepared for it, including bringing any necessary materials to class.

The in-class exercise grading process

Getting full credit for the in-class exercises is easy. This is truly a case where showing up is half the battle. Just be there and be willing to participate in each in-class activity and do a good job of it. As a key part of active learning in the classroom, individuals and teams will be asked to perform part of an ongoing analysis or design exercise in class, to illustrate the application of concepts covered in the class notes and class discussion. In assessing the "do a good job" part of this activity for each individual, we'll be looking for:

Everyone begins the course with full in-class participation credit and most will retain it to the end. However, deductions can be made from an individual's in-class participation credit for various shortcomings (e.g., being absent when your team needs you for an in-class exercise).

Team Project

The major work (and major credit) component for the course is the semester team-oriented development project. It involves defining, analyzing, specifying, designing, prototyping, and evaluating an interaction design. The purpose of the project is to give you real-world exposure to all steps involved in developing a significant user interaction design.

All team members are to participate in all development activities. Do not go too far in the direction of dividing the overall process among the team members. Even though this might seem like a more efficient way to proceed, this leads to a kind of specialization that poses a barrier to each person learning the overall process. This is especially true for a person who gets the job of programming (if your project calls for programming) at the price of not learning UX engineering skills.

The project grading process

All assignments (in-class exercises, homework, project, mid-term exam, and final exam) are designed by the instructor. It is the instructor's responsibility to establish grading standards and work with the GTA in grading. The GTA has the primary responsibility for grading homework. The GTA and the instructor work together in grading project reports, with the bulk of the grading being done by the GTA. The process begins with the GTA carefully reading each report and writing comments on it. The GTA and instructor meet and have a detailed discussion of each report. On the basis on these discussions, we assign grades.

Keep all graded work until after you get your final course grade at the end of the semester. You should check the posting of your grades periodically to be sure our records reflect your correct grades. In case your grade is incorrectly recorded, you will need to bring the graded original to the GTA in order for the recorded grade to be changed.

Team member evaluations

The project assignments are described separately; see links in the calendar below. Each member of the team is expected to contribute equally to each part of the project. It is possible that one of the most difficult parts of the project assignments is working well together in a group. Be aware of possible group problems and be ready to solve them. Don't make the mistake of taking this aspect for granted or waiting for it to fix itself; you have too much at stake.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, some team members end up not pulling their fair share of the weight. To identify such problems early on and to ensure that each team member is given a project grade reflecting individual contributions, an individual Team Member Evaluation is part of the deliverable for each project assignment. Each team must individually turn in a paper copy of the confidential Team Member Evaluation Form (print from item just below) as a required deliverable to report the relative effort/contribution of each person (including yourself) on your project team for each part of the project.

This form is not optional. Be professional and give a careful rating. The ratings on these forms will be used as weightings to convert team project grades into individual student project grades. The team is given a grade for each part of the project. Each individual team member's grade for each project assignment is a weighting of the team grade, where the weighting is based on an evaluation of individual contributions, collected from each team member at the end of the semester (and moderated as necessary by the instructor).

Mechanics: On the day each project assignment is due, each individual team member should hand in the completed Team Member Evaluation form in an envelope labeled with the team number and the team member’s name.


Your grade will be based on the scores you obtain on your work. There will be no curve applied to your scores, so be sure to study and work hard for every single assignment and test. Your work will be weighted as follows:

In-class exercises (attendance and participation)5%
Projects (group) with Project 1 and 6 worth 5% each, Project 2-5 worth 10% each, and Project 7 worth 15%65%

Final grades will be set according to the usual 10-point scale using A, B, C, D and F. I reserve the right use the extended scale used at VT - Letter Grade Numerical Value (GPA) A => 4.0, A- => 3.7, B+ => 3.3, B => 3.0, B- => 2.7, C+ => 2.3, C => 2.0, C- => 1.7, D+ => 1.3, D => 1.0, D- => 0.7, F => 0.0. I do not plan to use a curve, so do not count on getting 88 and waiting for the curve to pull you through. It won't. Study to get a 100. All the scores are rounded to one decimal place and the final score rounded to integers.

Abscense, Makeups, and other special circumstances

Attendance in class is necessary for successful completion of the course. Attendance is particularly important on specials days, such as homework-due days, presentations in class, etc. Absences might count against your grade.

Homeworks and assignments are due at the times posted on the coursewebsite and no late assignment will be accepted.

There might be some participatory exercises done in class. If you are asked to participate in these, it is expected that you will do so.

Students are expected to read the assigned material prior to class, check the web page for the assigned readings and their dates. Some class time will be used for lectures, but attending lectures will not be sufficient for full understanding of the concepts from the readings.

No makeups are allowed in this course. Homeworks not turned in on time will not be accepted and will get a zero. Projects cannot be turned in late. In particular, the final project WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED LATE. In short, late work will not be tolerated.

Nevertheless, sometimes people get sick so I will allow extra time to complete projects if you have the proper medical evidence that shows why you were not able to complete it in the time allowed. In special circumstances, other excuses will be accepted, but you would still need proper evidence of them.

Consider the following observations:

Honor Code

All work on individual assignments and exams is to be your own. You will be required to sign an honor code statement on some of the work. Students are encouraged to consult with one another about project design issues, as the sharing of ideas here will lead to better systems. However, sharing of code is not tolerated and furthermore it is easy to detect. Please avoid the awkward situation of being caught sharing code with other students that are not in your team. Written reports are to be the work of group members. In general, plagiarism will not be tolerated.

What is plagiarism? Check the website, I do not tolerate plagiarism, so avoid doing it and do not even try to justify it by giving excuses that begin as "I was not aware that ..."

Special Needs

If you have any special needs or circumstances (disability accommodations, religious holidays, etc.) please see me during office hours. Please note that this conversation is confidential and I do not want to have it in front of the class. So, come to my office hours, call me at the office, or email me. But do not put me in the uncomfortable situation of talking about special circumstances in front of other students.

Last modified: Monday January 8th, 2014