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Interface design, 2002: University Briefs

IX.2 March 2002
Page: 29
Digital Citation

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)


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The New Media Program (NMP) is a new program of study that has grown to include more than 700 undergraduate and graduate students in four years. Students from a broad spectrum of disciplines within informatics learn about the role of interface design and usability in the design and testing of hypermedia, multimedia, and other computer graphic products.

back to top  Philosophy of Design Education

NMP students are taught core values that instill a vision of new media as a multidisciplinary institution, which is reflected in the practical form of their mission statement:

  • New media is the subject of an interdisciplinary professional practice, which extends our knowledge about the ethical use of media to enhance human communication, learning, and understanding. Hence, the mission of the School of Informatics New Media Program is to conduct applied research on the integrated and convergent forms and uses of media and to prepare students to apply this knowledge through professional practice at a variety of levels of mastery, ranging from apprentice to advanced, based on core competencies.

In today's demanding job market, companies that provide the best job compensation expect junior digital designers to understand the foundations of visual communication and digital technologies and arrive at product solutions based on user testing rather than designer bias. In an effort to reach new and existing customers and markets, firms are enlisting graduates with special, cross-functional skills for job positions that fuse traditional design, social science, human-computer interaction (HCI) and usability, management, and technology. In addition to these core knowledge areas, students must fundamentally grasp real-world production strategies, creative management of time and resources, and the impact of synergy that stems from teams collaborating on ideas.

Although the New Media Program is relatively young, the mature stance of the program's mission outlines a pedagogical model that embraces not only theoretical learning but also hands-on application, enabling students to assume increasingly higher degrees of responsibility and new challenges in industry. Overall, the program is practically framed by these key factors:

  • Project-based team learning assignments to develop core competencies in problem-solving, creativity, communication, knowledge of the production process, and understanding of interactivity and usability theory.
  • Basic business and entrepreneurial skills to prepare students for self-managed, flexible careers in the new media e-commerce sectors.
  • Assistance to students in portfolio development, vital to modern careers that expect designers to have a broad set of skills—from design to information architecture to usability applications.
  • Industry-to-school partnerships that will link real-world experience and the classroom. Students will learn the roles of various team members and how individuals contribute to the team effort.
  • Broad-based technical and creative thinking skills; students will gain experience working as part of creative teams and will be computer-literate with advanced visual, written, and aural communication skills.

back to top  Preparing Students for User Interface Careers

The New Media Program's curriculum reflects a high degree of artistic and technical convergence that provides students a powerful venue for the expression of creative ideas and media design. Its interdisciplinary approach also allows for maximum cross-pollination because of flexibility in the School of Informatics' curricula architecture. With the rise of e-business, communication companies are becoming multidisciplinary and demanding creative thinking, technical excellence, and design savvy well beyond the traditional paradigm of the last two decades.

In addition to integrating conventional media with multimedia applications, students learn the principles of graphic design, interface design, and usability. From this vantage point, interface design principles have become an integral component in many courses that deal with hypermedia and multimedia, as well as an ongoing concern for user-centered design and usability testing. The New Media Program provides students the digital and creative literacy to deliver aesthetic substance. Currently, the faculty is considering the increasing need to incorporate more critical thinking and problem-solving fundamentals into course content. Students can then begin to understand a balanced approach to product analysis using empirical data gathered from testing, which is quite contrary to their own personal biases about design. With the traditional approach by many programs to push technology, students are often left bankrupt in creative thinking skills on one side and understanding user-centered design on the other. As a result, the curriculum committee recently approved two courses that have begun to bring a balance to these important issues.

One course, Creative Concept Development, focuses on creativity, ideation, and concept development. Students learn the processes of idea generation and development to maturity through specific methodologies and content research. Processes include visualization, sketching, storyboarding, and other image-making for two- and three-dimensional constructs, motion, and sound that can be easily transferred to new media production.

The second course, Usability Principles for New Media Interfaces, gives students a broad yet focused understanding of usability. This course introduces the fundamentals of HCI and user experience modeling, through a study of theory and application of user-centered design and usability testing of hypermedia products. A touchstone of the course is how it draws relationships between aesthetics and design, human factors, and cognitive psychology in the development of the graphical user interface (GUI), information architecture, navigation, and interactivity. Students also learn to validate design solutions through a range of controlled usability testing techniques and the statistical assessment of data. Lecture topics include:

  • HCI in product development
  • The history and purpose of the GUI
  • Information processing, cognitive modeling, and mental models
  • Understanding the product life cycle
  • Usability toolbox, theories, and testing techniques
  • Information architecture and management
  • Principles of the interface design process
  • Interface grids and typographical devices
  • Icon design principles and practices
  • Interface standards for disability users (at this stage we minimally discuss this issue and do not address the bigger matters of universal accessibility)
  • International interfaces

The learning outcomes model includes six components:

  • 1. Behavior: Cognitive sciences of HCI
    • How users think and respond while interacting with interfaces
  • 2. Learning: User goal-centered design
    • The principles and theories of interface usability
  • 3. Information: Information and content architecture
    • How to build site content in the context of the GUI
  • 4. Graphic: Visual communication
    • Visual literacy in the context of HCI and usability
  • 5. Validation: Usability testing
    • How to validate design solutions through controlled product testing

The intent of the New Media Program is to help students form, through gradual refinement of curriculum, broader and more-in-depth skill profiles that can help them target the job market of their interest. Some of the job titles include Web/Hypermedia Designer, Interface Designer, Information Architect, Usability Specialist, and Media Specialist. All these titles embody a blend of multiple skills that surpass the boundaries of traditional job descriptions. Over time the program's curriculum will be tested by whether it has the potential to provide broadened job opportunities for its students.

back to top  Sample Design Project

I conducted a variety of interface and usability class projects over the last few years. One of the more challenging projects given to graduate students is to design, test, and report on an interface-based product. A class project of this size could take several weeks or a full semester. See Figures 1 to 3 as examples of one student's work for the following project description. The project instructions were outlined as follows.

bullet.gif Design Solution

  • The student's mission was to solve an applied research design problem composed of three parts:
    • Product solution: the synthesis of ideas, sketches, and conceptual decisions for the interface design prototype
    • Product validation: testing of the prototype solution using the cognitive walkthrough technique
    • Product report: a short written report that explains the conceptual design processes and test results of the design solution
  • The ultimate goal was to design an interface that
    • Facilitates a confluence of various diverse media platforms, technologies, and entertainment and information portals; and
    • Maximizes the usability of the interface despite its complexity and quantity of devices and utilities. (The interface can be for a laptop, handheld device, car interface, watch, clothing, or any other product that can be validated through ideation, design, explanation, and testing.)
  • Other design considerations include
    • Usability features on the graphical user interface for interactivity, navigation, and information architecture
    • Creation of multiple levels of menus or dialog boxes, or both, to perform some of the actions of the system
    • Logic, placement, and type of buttons, menus, and text, and the graphic look and feel
    • Functionality and usability, that is, ease of use, usefulness, and above all, the goal of the user. (These metrics are paramount in all design decisions and components for measurement.)

bullet.gif Design Validation and Report

Supported by semester-long lectures on usability theory and testing, students apply their knowledge to this project. In addition to using five subjects for testing, students design their own test model with the appropriate psychometric tools to obtain empirical data and execute product analysis. After reviewing the test results, students write a report that includes an introduction, company profile, goal of the product interface, interface description, methodology of testing, results, and recommendations.

The intended learning outcomes of this project are that students gain an in-depth understanding of the principles and processes of HCI, interface design, and usability task testing, as well as improve their ability to write a report that outlines an analysis of test data that can assist in drawing some well-supported conclusions. The project report is an integration of their ideas and observations against standardized usability guidelines.

back to top  Author

Anthony Faiola

Associate Professor
Indiana University–Purdue University
735 West New York Street, LS 122
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Work: (317) 278-4141
Mobile: (765) 532-3377
Home: (765) 463-6864

A Fulbright scholar to Russia and associate professor of new media at Indiana University, Anthony Faiola has pursued a broad scholarly path that has evolved from fine arts, graphics, and interface design to usability. Anthony earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) College at New Paltz and three master's degrees from SUNY at Albany and The Ohio State University. Before coming to IUPUI, Anthony spent three years at Purdue University developing undergraduate and graduate courses in hypermedia usability, design theory, and testing, from which he continues to lecture and research at IUPUI. Anthony has also worked in the industrial sector, lectured abroad, and published articles and books on new media, usability, and technology education.

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Anthony Faiola

F1Figure 1. Six student illustrations of an ear device that functions as both an audio and an optical projection device.

F2Figure 2. Six student illustrations of interface menus that are projected from the ear device.

F3Figure 3. Three student illustrations that show (a) multifunctional utility of device to control multiple digital appliances in a home, (b) how the ear device would holographically project the interface in front of the user, and (c) additional features of the ear device.

back to top  Sidebar: About the Organization


New Media Program, Indiana University School of Informatics

Relevant Course Titles

  • Introduction to Digital Media Principles
  • Interactive Media Applications
  • Visual Basic Programming
  • Web Programming
  • Advanced Programming, Java
  • Introduction to Multimedia Programming
  • Usability Principles for New Media Interfaces
  • Foundations of Digital Arts Production

Number of students per year

650 undergraduate, 116 graduate

Student career paths & goals

A broad range of industrial positions in the fields of media arts, multimedia, and animation.

History of the program

The program has formally existed for about four years. Faculty members typically have from five to 25 years, and sometimes more, of professional and teaching experience.

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioner's Workbench


1. Cooper, A. About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design. IDG Books Worldwide, Chicago, 1995.

2. Del Galdo, E.M. and Nielsen, J., eds. International User Interfaces. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996.

3. Dumas, J.S. and Redish, J.C. A Practical Guide to Usability Testing. Intellect, Portland, Oregon, 1999.

4. Hackos, J.T. and Redish, J.C. User and Task Analysis for Interface Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1998.

5. Horton, W. The Icon Book: Visual Symbols for Computer Systems and Documentation. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1994.

6. Norman, D.A. and Draper, S.W. User Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 1986.

7. Nielsen, J. Designing Web Usability. New Riders Publishing, Indianapolis, 2000.

8. Nielsen, J. and Mack, R.L., eds. Usability Inspection Methods. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1994.

9. Salvendy, G., ed. Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1997.

10. Tufte, E. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1997.

11. Tufte, E. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press, Cheshire, CT, 1990.

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©2002 ACM  1072-5220/02/0300  $5.00

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