Background: I will be a teaching assistant in a course on "Interactive Systems" with the following learning goals for the students.

  • Analyze and criticize user interfaces
  • Identify and describe important subsystems in the interaciton loop
  • Implement efficient user interfaces from sensors and actuators
  • Prototype interactive computer-implemented products
  • Evaluate and judge user interface designs with respect to usability

I will be teaching computer science students and students from a programme called "IT" which focuses on protoyping, programming, and design. Both groups are second year university students. Having recently graduated with a master's degree in computer science myself, I know from experience and from fellow students that courses on these topics are not appreciated (some loathe them to the point of bullying others for liking them). From speaking to the IT students, I know that they see these courses as simple, but essential to their further education. So I am, roughly speaking, standing with two groups of students: One that would rather be anywhere else on Earth, and one that thinks the course is fine.

Now, as part of a course on teaching I have been asked to prepare a mini teaching session. I have decided on the goal for this session to be for the students to reflect on the role of interaction design and usability evaluations in a larger frame - for instance, what relations they have to database administration or to developers. I am hoping to motivate the students to see what their own future role could be, should they choose to go down that path, and otherwise to understand that it does play an important part along with the things that do interest them.

My question is: Do you have suggestions for examples that I could provide them with, such as case studies of software development processes, or can you think of good arguments to put forth?

Other comments are also very welcome!

(I have always been interested in usability and user experience, so I would especially like answers from people who might feel less interested and therefore understand my future students better)

Edit: I am not just looking for examples of good/bad end results but also of the design/development process, to showcase e.g. how interaction design relates to programming/development.

  • $\begingroup$ Since there have been recent meta discussions about the suitability of questions without clear answers, this looks to me like a good, specific question where the answers may be useful for lots of different scenarios. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ User interaction design, or user interface design? There is a difference. User interaction design is not just a new name, it is a new way of thinking (see the inmates are running the asylum — Alen Cooper, for a good introduction). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, Alan Cooper $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking for case studies of good design or horror stories, primarily? The latter are more dramatic, of course. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SeanHoulihane: I'm glad you think so! $\endgroup$
    – Idall
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 13:39

2 Answers 2



Get them hooked. Find interest for them.

Give them some software, and real life items, that have poor user interaction. Have them use them, and then tell you and the class, what they think of them. What they would to to improve them.

The book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum — Alan Cooper, has some very good real-world and software examples. Including:

  • Doors with pull handles, and the word PUSH. Can you guess what people do?
  • Some software bundled with a scanner that had only 3 features, compared with the 1000s in the competitors (want to be adobe) product. It was described as the most feature rich product in its class (it had 3 features, that worked, and were easy to use. That is 3 more than the competitors).

Designing interfaces is boring for a programmer (it is the job of the artists). However “user interaction design” is not. User interaction design goes deeper, it is not about slapping an interface onto a poorly design think. It is about designing it from the ground up to be easy to use.

Computer programming is about two things. The computer, and the humans. Most of the courses are about the computer. However we also learn high-level languages, and how to write programs that are easy to read and maintain (closer to the human). We also need to get closer to the users. By making it easier for them.


From a database point of view. Imagine a database application with a simple elegant interface, easy to use, but no join. How imagine trying to find some info. Do a query, write the result to to some paper, do another query copying data from paper. However with joins, we don't need to do the remembering for the computer.

Computers should not make us have to remember stuff. Computers are much better at remembering that we are.

Get them screaming at examples of bad stuff from the “Experts”

Which button do you press to cancel? Clue: it is not cancel. enter image description here

Types of easy: There are two types of easy to use: for the first-times / casual user; for the expert, that uses it regularly. Making it easy for the first-timer, will often make it harder for the expert (often having to work much harder, click, click, click).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the response! I think you have a good point that I need to get them hooked somehow. I'll definitely take a look at Alan Cooper's book to find inspiration. However, my experience with my own classmates in these kinds of courses is that if you show them examples of clearly bad UIs, they'll be engaged, but they'll also say: "That's obvious, why would I need to take a course to learn this?" But I'll see if Cooper has some examples in which the problem is not as obvious - and then let my students think about what could be wrong before giving them the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Idall
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 13:36

I train full stack development and that includes user interfaces (which falls under if not cover the entire gamut of interaction design).

When it comes to examples, I talk about the infamous case of how Microsoft screwed up Windows 8. I use Windows 8 because a lot of people are familiar with it and may have actually used it. Or at least read about it. Or at least read about the many, many jokes made at windows 8's expense.

You could use Windows 8 as an example how badly even a big company like Microsoft can screw things up, and the kind of impact it is going to have on users. Then, you can follow and reveal how Microsoft learnt from their own mistakes and fixed things with Windows 8.

I always use this in my UI classes, and it elicits a lot of interest, familiarity and some fun stuff.It also seems to drive the point home.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hope this link helps - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_(design_language)#Reception $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, Jay. I very much like the idea of discussing some screw-ups and their fixes, in combination with relying on familiarity. And thanks for the link to the Wikipedia page! Could you point me to some more detailed sources thta you have found useful (if any)? $\endgroup$
    – Idall
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 13:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Try this one - pcworld.com/article/2098585/… and also this one - thurrott.com/mobile/windows-phone/3000/… Unfortunately, there are no detailed studies. mostly just comments from former UI experts, commentary, jokes and stuff. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 4:13

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