C SCI 4600 - In-Class Exercise No. 1
C SCI 4600 -- The Human-Computer Interface
Spring Semester, 2002

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

The Goal: To define the functionality of and design the interface(s) for the various subsystems of a new consumer appliance.

The Scenario: We routinely make use of a variety of small, hand-held electronic devices in our daily lives: personal digital assistants (PDAs, such as the Palm Pilot), mobile phones, remote controls for appliances such as TVs and CD players, and more.

On the basis of currently discernible trends I think it is safe to predict, that in a few years we will see the introduction of new hand-held devices which combine and/or redefine the functionality currently associated with these products. Tomorrow's devices may include additional functionality not currently available, or which is not traditionally associated with a given class of device.

What To Do: This exercise involves brainstorming in an effort to glimpse how the future might look. Divide up into teams of 4-6 members each, and rearrange seating as necessary so as to facilitate interaction among team members.

Clearly, any new device will only be commercially successful if it can be easily used by people who don't have advanced computer science degrees, and if the effort involved in transitioning to the new technology is small enough, whereas the perceived benefit in transitioning is great enough, that many people can be induced to take the plunge. Good advertising alone may not save you, if you pay insufficient attention to what users want. But if you get it right, you may come up with a wildly successful new product that brings you fame and fortune--not to mention the intellectual satisfaction of seeing millions of people using what you've created!

Your team needs to think about issues such as the following: What will one of these new devices do--and what do you not want it to do? How would users interface with the new devices--which features would be implemented in hardware, and which in software--and why? What supporting technologies, or infrastructure changes, would have to occur, in order to turn your vision into reality--and how far in the future is such change likely? What will it cost?

You have a difficult balancing act ahead. On the one hand you want to break out of today's confines so you need to let your imagination go free--but at the same time you need to be careful to avoid science fiction scenarios! Can you sketch one or more "storyboards" of a typical user interaction with the new device you're proposing?

Feel free to discuss whatever you wish with me during the period, if your team encounters issues or problems you're unsure how to resolve. Towards the end of the session, I will call for volunteers from several teams to present their team's thoughts to the class, using sketches on the overhead projectors as necessary. Feedback and suggestions for improvements from the class are solicited! Would you buy and use this team's product? If so, great; if not, why not?

Afterwards, each team should evaluate its design in light of what you heard from others, and any additional brainstorming you may wish to do as a group. Then, summarize your design in a written report which includes diagrams and illustrations as needed. Discuss what you perceive to be the advantages of your design, and also possible problems. The report (one copy with all team member names listed) is due ten days after the in-class phase of the exercise is completed.