I just finished my latest course in DePaul University’s HCI program — Foundations of Human Computer Interaction. This type of course is a must for anyone who is serious about designing product user interfaces, whether you want to do visual design, information architecture, or interaction design.
The course focused on studying basic and applied research into cognitive psychology and using those learnings to craft more usable interfaces. The course provided a solid foundation in the human factors considerations that should be a part of any design effort, including study of the structure and mechanics of the human eye and the limitations and capabilities of short term memory.
The class had three main objectives: learning to read and review research articles, creating interface design guidelines based on original peer-reviewed research, and evaluating interfaces against those guidelines. We used previously published research instead of conducting our own studies because of the limited time available to the class.
The organization of the course was such that each assignment provided a foundation for the next, leading up to an interface evaluation and presentation. I choose to evaluate Mint.com, a popular financial management website. My design guidelines mostly focused on the color and screen location of key navigational elements of a website. A sample of my guidelines and how they were used to evaluate Mint.com can be viewed in PDF format.
Completing assignments required use of the EBSCOhost databases, Google Scholar, and other academic research databases. These can be powerful tools when you need to find solid research to back up design decisions.
Knowing how human factors considerations should be treated during a design project and how to find existing research into those areas are invaluable tools for any user experience professional. A course in these topics would be helpful to anyone doing UI design.