Course Syllabus

Course Information

CSS 478 Au21 Usability and User-Centered Design

Photo of Annuska Zolyomi

Instructor: Professor Annuska Zolyomi

Class sessions: Tuesdays and Thursday, 3:30 - 5:30 pm in UW2 141
Office Hours: By appointment and Friday's 10:30 - 11:30 on Prof. Zolyomi's Zoom link.

About the Course

Course Overview

The foundation of successful and innovative design is shaping the experiences to meet the existing and anticipated needs of users. CSS 478 is an introduction to the user-centered design (UCD) process and to how it can be leveraged throughout the software design lifecycle. The course is oriented toward the practice of UCD in industry settings and approaches user research from a broad perspective throughout the design and development process. You will practice commonly used research methods used in the generative, formative/evaluative, and summative stages of the design process. These methods are used widely for software systems and services, web design, mobile application design, and even hardware design. You will develop a framework for identifying, adapting, and creating new methods as you encounter novel user experience questions that need to be answered. This class will helpf you get started on answering the question, “How do we design things that are useful, usable, and compelling; and that meet user needs in innovative and more effective ways?”

(Credit for portions of my CSS 478 syllabus goes to Arnold Lund and Dave Hendry. All mistakes or typos are credited to me.)

Learning Goals

In general, the goals of the course are for students to:

  1. Develop an appreciation for the theory and sensibilities of user-centered design
  2. Achieve a deeper understanding of users, and apply that understanding to uncovering opportunities
  3. Understand how to create usability and other metrics that will help teams achieve successful user experiences
  4. Develop skills in the use and application of a variety of user research methods, specifically applicable to user-centered design
  5. Improve your individual and collaborative skills in design-based problem solving and design thinking


On completing the course, you should be able to:

  1. Support designers and software engineering teams by defining and implementing a program of research throughout the development lifecycle
  2. Help the team center their efforts on the needs of users in the expected contexts in which their work will be used
  3. Apply the most common research techniques at a basic level of competence (e.g., interviews, personas, storyboarding, sketching, low- and hi-fidelity prototyping, and evaluation), and be able to identify alternatives and potentially adapt them for novel situations
  4. Describe the issues and challenges to achieving a user-centered design process and how you can address them
  5. Gather useful information about users and activities through observation and systematic inquiry, and engage teams and sponsors in leveraging your results to improve designs

This is an important time in the history of designing applications that help people learn, play, conduct business, interact with one another, address individual/global problems and improve our quality of life. We are entering the next wave in human-computer interaction technologies and methods. With the vast improvements in processors, graphics, networking, databases, telephony, sensing technologies, mobile computing devices and the overall availability of information – completely new approaches to designing application interfaces are emerging and new experiences are being enabled. But to be successful—whatever the technology--solutions need to meet the needs of people. If they don’t work for people, they don’t work. UCD is the heart of Design Thinking and other emerging user experience design approaches within the evolving software engineering lifecycle approaches.

The way we will approach UCD for much of the course is to organize into teams, and each team will focus on a different website. Each team will identify the personas that should be using the site, dive deeply into the needs of those users, and develop recommendations for improving the existing designs and proposing approaches to new mobile, smart speakers, and other tools that could provide value. The goal of each team will be to develop a compelling set of prioritized recommendations based on grounded insights about users.

Required Texts

Observing User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research (2nd Edition). (2012) Elizabeth Goodman, Mike Kuniavsky, and Andrea Moed, Morgan Kaufmann: Elsevier ISBN 978-0-12-384869-7

The textbook is available as an electronic book at the UW Libraries 

(If you  need assistance accessing UW Libraries resources,  use the “Chat with a Librarian” service through Ask Us:

There will be additional readings posted on Canvas to address specific topics, posted in the Module pages.

Assessing Learning


Students will engage in individual and group graded activities during the quarter. 

 Group Project.  The cornerstone of this course is a group project that will be worked on throughout the quarter. Project groups will be formed by students and should be 4 students in size (with exceptions made to account for the total class size.)  Groups will have two checkpoint assignments or presentations throughout the quarter. Groups will present their projects status and outcomes throughout the end of the quarter.

* Your score for group work will be adjusted (higher or lower) based on feedback from your peers on how much you are contributing to the group activity and how well you are collaborating.

25%     Group Formative Research Project

25%     Group Evaluative Research Project

 Individual Assignments.  These short assignments are designed to help prepare for upcoming class lectures and enhance the readings – and help you practice the concepts and methods you learn about in class. Most of the individual assignments will be kicked off during our class sessions. Oftentimes, group activities will be based on the results of your work so be sure to be prepared with your completed assignments.

20%     Individual Assignments

 In-Class Activities. Throughout the quarter, we will do several in-class activities often working in pairs or in your teams. These short assignments supplement the lecture of the class session to give you hands-on experience with research techniques like interviewing and data analysis.

I will drop your one lowest in-class activities. This will give you some flexibility to choose not to engage in an in-class activity due to your schedule or personal situation.

15%     Individual Assignments

♦ Reading Discussions. There are required readings every week and a corresponding Canvas Discussion thread. The discussion prompt will be posted at the top of every weekly thread. Please be sure to do the assigned reading before you come to class. Some of these assigned readings are required for the class activities.

I will drop your two lowest reading discussion grades (Either a conversation starter or a response; they can be from the same week or different weeks). This will give you some flexibility to choose not to engage in a reading discussion board.

15%     Readings and Discussions

♦ Extra Credit. There will be a small number of extra credit assignments made available throughout the quarter and announced in class. These will likely be in the form of experience reports relating to you exploring different research methods.

Grading Scale

Grading in this class follows the UW standard grading system, as shown in the table at the top of that website. The official decimal class grades (0.0 - 4.0) will be determined from a weighted average of your grades in the various categories described above. 

NOTE: Canvas doesn’t do the summary grade with the way contributions to the grade are being weighted (and incl. extra credit points), so only take Canvas as an approximate measure of how you are doing.

All activities will be scored on the customary 4.0 scale based on these anchor points: above 97% is a 4.0 and below 60% is a 0.0. The following table represents the official UW conversion of standard letter grades to the UW decimal grade scale and the conversion to the 100-pt scale used in this class. 

Letter Grade Number

Points / Percentage (listed from maximum - minimum value)

Note that these are approximate. Final grades are determined by automatic conversation done by the UW Gradebook tool. 

A 4.0 100 - 97
3.9 96 - 95
A- 3.8 - 3.5 94 - 90
B+ 3.4 - 3.2 89 - 85
B 3.1 - 2.9 84 - 82
B 2.8 - 2.5 81 - 78
C+ 2.4 - 2.2 77 - 75
C 2.1 - 1.9 74 - 72
C- 1.8-  1.5 71 - 68
D+ 1.4 - 1.2 67 - 65
D 1.1 - 0.9 64 - 62
D- 0.8 - 0.7 61 - 60 

In general, my expectation is that meeting the rubric basic requirements posted in Canvas for an assignment is around a B grade (unless it is in essence CR/NC). That leaves room to acknowledge really extraordinary work (an A) and everything in between when students choose to put in that level of effort. In addition, my assumption is that since the class is primarily taken by Juniors and Seniors, assignments will be well written and proofed. They will meet the requirements given in class and in Canvas. And they will be well designed, as they would be if they were a deliverable to a boss in industry or to a project sponsor.

Grading of Group Work

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, when work is completed in groups of two or more, all group members receive the same grade. For the multi-part, quarter-long group project, each group member will be given an opportunity to provide feedback to me regarding the relative contributions of each of the group members. I will use this collective feedback when assigning project grades to individual group members. Extenuating circumstances include but are not limited to:

  1. A group member fails to adequately participate in a project
  2. A group member creates severe conflict because of, for example, hateful speech, bullying, or similar
  3. A group member plagiarizes. 

Should your group encounter difficulties please let the teaching assistant or instructor know as soon as possible. The sooner we know, the sooner we might be able to help. 

Late Policy

Assignments must be turned in at the day and time indicated on Canvas.

Without prior arrangements, the late penalty for all deliverables is 10% per day to a maximum of 30% off. If you anticipate a conflict, you can submit assignments early.

Deliverables must be completed on the specified due date unless you make prior arrangements with me (preferably more than 48 hours before the due date).  During this difficult pandemic quarantine, I anticipate you may experience challenges that may impact your individual and teamwork. As feasible, contact me and your teammates when you know your work effort will be impacted to make alternative arrangements and re-distribute workload.

How? Send an email to the instructor or grader requesting additional time, specify how much time you need, and explain the general situation. Or, if you like, request a one-on-one meeting in person, by Zoom, or by phone. Please do not forward the following:  

    • Sensitive details about your illness or injury (just the general situation)
    • Doctors' notes or letters
    • Photographs documenting injuries or illnesses.

Some examples, where additional time to complete work is typically granted: 

  1. You need to care for a family member or close friend;
  2. You need to attend a funeral; 
  3. You become ill or are in an accident; 
  4. You experience mental health challenges; 
  5. You have a job interview; 
  6. You have an opportunity to attend a professional conference; 
  7. You are an athlete, musician, or performer and you have an upcoming event; 
  8. Your computer is stolen or otherwise fails.

If you believe there was an error in grading one of your assignments, you can request that your assignment be re-graded. To have work re-graded, please submit a Re-grade Request within five days of when your work was returned. The request must be an e-mail to the grader and instructor with the following information:

  • Subject line: CSS 478 Re-grade Request: Assignment XXX
  • Your identifying information
  • An explanation for why you would like your work re-graded. 

The grader and instructor will consider your request and, if warranted, will re-grade your work. Please note: In general, a re-grade request means that the entire piece of work is regraded, which means that it is possible to receive a lower grade.  

Grade for Incomplete

According to University rules, “an incomplete is given only when the student has been in attendance and has done satisfactory work until within two weeks of the end of the quarter and has furnished proof satisfactory to the instructor that the work cannot be completed because of illness or other circumstances beyond the student’s control.” A grade of Incomplete can be granted only to students who have a verifiable issue that prevents them from completing the coursework in a timely fashion. Please see the UWB undergraduate grading policy for details.

Fostering an Open, Respectful Class Environment

Keeping in Touch

Check the course website often. Assignment descriptions and lecture notes will be posted on the site. When you send a Canvas message or email, make sure to include “CSS478” in the Subject field. UW email is preferable mode of communication. I’ll do my best to respond to your email within 24 hours (48 hours on weekends).

Please submit general questions to the class Discussion board, because other students may have the same question and because others in the class may be able to answer your question before I can.

Wondering how to address faculty?

At UW Bothell we encourage and appreciate our ability to interact closely with our students, and we value faculty-student collaboration very highly. It is also important to maintain an appropriate professional relationship. When addressing faculty, it is more appropriate to refer to them as Dr. X, Prof. X, or Mr./Ms. X as appropriate unless told to do otherwise.


UW is committed to creating and sustaining an inclusive learning environment. In this class, I will strive to foster a learning environment of mutual respect. I will promote active listening and encourage all students to engage in respectful, active listening in the class session, breakout rooms, and communication with each other outside of class. I have dedicated much of my technology and academic career to (1) deepening our understanding of socio-technical scenarios involving disabled people, and (2) advocating for increased access to technology and information for marginalized populations, which is becoming even more critical during periods like COVID-19. If you have any concerns, comments, or questions about ways we, as a class, can do more to foster an inclusive learning environment, please contact me or the grader.

Class Policies

The following policies have been compiled by the Faculty Council of the School of STEM and adopted as a standard for use in all STEM courses.

The standard STEM classroom policies apply to this class.  Please click on this link to read details about specific policies related to the following important areas: (Links to an external site.) Links to an external site.

In particular, class attendance and active teamwork is expected. While readings and other materials may be provided to help you understand the class topics, additional concepts, methods, and practices may be presented only during class sessions. Also, many class activities require interaction and discussion with others that you will miss if you do not attend. That said, class attendance by itself will not be graded, and I understand that individuals do have work and life commitments outside of school that may be more important. If you will not be attending, you are expected to communicate that to one of your team members. Teams are responsible for checking in on those not in attendance for any given class.

You may use laptops, smartphones, tape recorders, and other equipment to improve your ability to take notes and understand class lectures and discussion subject the following conditions:

  • All recordings and other media captured during class time are for personal use only and may not be sold, traded, posted, shared, or exchanged without explicit permission. Such use may constitute a violation of intellectual property laws.
  • Using electronic equipment for communicating and/or performing work not related to class activities disrupts not only your concentration but also those around you and your instructors. You may be asked to immediately turn off equipment and/or leave the classroom.

Academic Freedom

Both students and the instructor are expected in this class to be able to engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation. Academic freedom provides the right to study and do research on topics that you choose and to draw what conclusions you may find consistent with your documented research; however, this does not prevent others from judging whether the work is valuable and the conclusions sound. Students and the instructor may challenge one another's views, but neither will be penalized for those views. Students and the instructor are expected to act in accordance with university expectations in creating a welcoming environment for diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Note that the instructor may facilitate or otherwise engage with the class in an attempt to maximize discussion and inclusion by all members of the class; for example but not limited to, this may involve limiting the time of participation by individuals, so that others may have the opportunity to express their views. Finally, all assessments made on student work in this class will not be based on one's view, but rather on the quality of work, the appropriateness of methods applied, and fulfillment of instructions given.

Academic Integrity

Honesty and integrity are essential to the free exchange of ideas and knowledge at UW Bothell as described by UWB Student Affairs mission statement and student conduct code.  Academic integrity will be upheld in this course.

The library has an extremely useful website with resources about academic integrity and plagiairism prevention. You are expected to provide original work based on your own effort for this course. You may not use case studies or past materials from this class as resource. You will be expected to participate as an equal member of a project team in any group projects.

You are responsible for knowing what constitutes a violation of the University of Washington Student Code, and you will be held responsible for any such violations whether they were intentional or not. You will receive a zero for any exam or coursework for which you are discovered cheating, facilitating, fabricating, or plagiarizing. You may be referred to the University for further action. 

Access and Accommodations

Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS on your campus. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course.

Classroom Emergency Preparedness

For emergencies, refer to the UW Bothell Emergency website. You can sign up with an alert system that will contact you via email or text message if classes are canceled. See UWB Safety Tips for detailed information on the following topics: active shooter, inclement weather, bomb threat, crime or violence, earthquake, fire, hazardous material spill, identity theft, lockdown, medical emergency, online safety, power outage, sexual assault, a student in distress, suspicious mail, theft, pandemic flu, and extreme heat.

In the case of inclement weather, please check if the UWB inclement weather page for information on campus closures.  Information on suspension of operations will be made public and available through the media. Class activities will be rescheduled as needed.

Other Student Support Services

  • CSS Tutoring:;
  • IT Helpdesk:, 425-352-3456;
  • Library:, 425-352-5340;
  • Student Counseling Services:, 425-352- 3183;
  • Student Success and Career Services:,425-352-3427

Course Schedule

See the weekly Modules (via the left-hand navigation bar and the list at the bottom of the Canvas home page) for descriptions of the assignments and activities. The following list shows currently scheduled key activities and deliverables for the class. All scheduled activities, content, and dates are subject to change. Notification of schedule changes may occur in-class, by email, or updates to Canvas.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due