Graduate School Lecturer
UC Berkeley

Taught a graduate course in design – SIMS 214 Usability and User Needs Assessment. Took students through complete product design lifecycle, including task analysis, site visits, personas, scenarios, design exploration, competitive evaluation, heuristics, user testing and remote data gathering. Integrated a real startup company, Linkify, into curriculum. Divided class sessions into lecture, demo of techniques using Linkify and real users, and then practice of techniques on student projects. Students rated it in the top 25% of courses.

Process and Results

1. Course syllabus

I had the opportunity to teach this course because a colleague, Professor Nancy Van House, was taking a sabbatical. Though she had an existing syllabus, I felt I needed to create my own to be comfortable teaching it. The result was the list of topics to the right. Each bullet was a week in the semester with a corresponding set of readings and assignments.

2. Classroom activities

Each class session was a combination of lecture, demonstration, and hands-on practice. This gave students an opportunity to hear the theory, see it in action, and practice it themselves. As part of the demonstration, I invited an Internet startup, Linkify, to be our in-class guinea pig. We practiced all of the methods being taught on Linkify – often identifying usability issues that the Linkify team would use to change their design. The students could see the value of the methods in action.

3. Class assignments

The primary class assignment was a semester-long project where students practiced user-centered design on a real-world software product or website. The interim assignments were the draft reports of each step in the process. This gave students the big picture of how each step in the process leads to the next – how the output of each method is valuable in the design process.

4. My design philosophy

In addition to the basic methods of user-centered design and the importance of hands-on, real-world practice, there were a few personal philosophies I emphasized throughout the class. The first was that a focus on the user’s goals should drive design, not existing tasks which are just a means to the ends. The second was that gathering data from real users is the best way to resolve differences of opinion on the design / development team. And, the third was that most design questions don’t require large numbers and statistical analysis – the first few users usually find the big issues, so it’s best to move on quickly to the next iteration because there are always more design issues to resolve.

5. Course feedback

“I just got your teaching evaluations from 214. As you may know, you rated 6 on a 7 point scale, which is extremely good. A score this high is only received in about a fourth of the courses, so this is a very noteworthy performance.”
  — Hal Varian, Dean, UC Berkeley
       School of Information

6. Student comments