Learning to design by listening
CS 179, Design of Useful and Usable Interactive Systems, introduces students to the design process—starting with finding a problem in the world that is worth fixing, all the way to building an interactive, demo-ready prototype. Along the way, students learn how to rapidly generate ideas and prototypes, get feedback, and develop an increasingly refined product.
Students learn two very important skills along the way: how to see the world through somebody else’s eyes, and how to use creativity to move beyond the first idea.
The first team project lasts four weeks. The mission is to use the power of mobile technology to revolutionize the experience of being a tourist on the Harvard campus. Students start by observing tourists experiencing Harvard and develop insights about their values, frustrations, and needs. At the end of this observation period students are often surprised by many of their insights. For some tourists, Harvard is just one stop on a larger tour that includes other sites in Cambridge and Boston. Some tourists aren’t interested in the history of Harvard and simply want to be entertained.
The course gives students the skills and the courage to ask people about their needs and really listen, says Professor Krzysztof Gajos.
Although CS 179 is a computer science course, only about a third of the students are concentrating in CS. Quite a few are studying psychology, economics, philosophy, engineering, and biology.
The course demonstrates to these diverse students how computer science can be a versatile toolkit for making a difference in the world. Students who complete this class should have a seat at the decision-making table in tech companies, says Gajos, using their skills and insights to influence the future direction of new products.