COMS W4170: User Interface Design

Fall 2015, Tu/Th 1:10–2:25pm, 1127 SW Mudd

Prof. Steven Feiner 
feiner [AT] cs [DOT] columbia [DOT] edu

Syllabus and Assignments


COMS W4170 will provide a general introduction to the theory and practice of user interface design. The fundamental question that we will try to answer is, “How can we create high-quality user interfaces?” Our emphasis will be on the design of 2D graphical user interfaces. We will survey the basic technologies available and the techniques that have been developed for (or have given rise to) them, and will study several important paradigms for how these techniques can be woven into a coherent dialogue. This will provide a framework within which we can analyze existing user interfaces and design new ones.

Grading will be based on written assignments (12%, 15%, 15%), a final exam (24%), a final project (30%), and class participation (4%). Although this is not primarily a “programming class,” programming will be required, with an emphasis on design and analysis. To get an idea of the kind of work that we will do, you can see representative screenshots and descriptions of the final projects for Fall 2014 (coming soon), Fall 2013, Fall 2012, Fall 2010, Fall 2009, Fall 2008, Fall 2007, Fall 2006, and Spring 2006.

The course prerequisite is COMS W313X (Data Structures [and Algorithms]) or equivalent. No previous academic experience with either user interface design or graphics is assumed. However, you are expected to be comfortable with computers and object-oriented programming.


Steve Feiner (feiner [AT] cs [DOT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a Professor of Computer Science and director of the Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab. He is interested in most aspects of computer graphics and user interfaces, with special emphasis on 3D user interfaces, augmented reality and virtual reality, wearable and mobile computing, knowledge-based design of graphics and multimedia, computer games, health applications, and information visualization (i.e., "fun stuff"). His office is 609 Schapiro CEPSR (212-939-7083), where he will hold office hours Monday and Wednesday 1–2pm (other hours by appointment). If he's not in his office, he'll probably be in his lab across the hall (6LE3 Schapiro CEPSR), where you can find members designing experimental user interfaces for a variety of technologies, ranging from hand-held and head-worn, to table-top and wall-sized. He will usually stay after class for as long as it takes to answer any questions you have.

Teaching Assistants

Sarah Green (stg2117 [AT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a senior in Columbia College studying Computer Science and Business Management. Her CS interests include HCI, natural language processing, and front-end development. She spent this past summer as an intern at Lithium Technologies in San Francisco, working on a project combining product management and UI/UX design. She is broadly interested in how design, business, and engineering interact in the software development lifecycle. She has designed and programmed for a variety of mobile devices as well as the web. Her office hours will be held on Tuesdays 2:30–4:30pm in the TA/CA Help Room.

Shloka Kini (srk2169 [AT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a second-year dual-degree MS student in Computer Science and Journalism. She earned her BA degree in Computer Science from Dartmouth College. Her CS interests include graphics (particularly animation), HCI, AI, digital humanities, educational technology, and work to promote women in computing. Her journalism interests lie in multimedia storytelling, media production, public speaking, and performing arts. She spent this past summer working at Buzzfeed, and hopes to work in the media/tech industry after graduation. She has programmed for many UI devices and platforms, including Android smartphones, Microsoft Kinect, and web. She will hold office hours Monday 2–4pm in the TA/CA Help Room.

Mei-Vern Then (mt2837 [AT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a senior in Columbia College majoring in Computer Science with a concentration in Business. Her CS interests include natural language processing, data science, and work to promote women in computing (check out the CU WiCS group!). She spent last summer working at Goldman Sachs in their asset management tech team. She has also done research for Columbia's natural language processing speech lab. She will hold office hours Monday 4–6pm in the TA/CA Help Room.

Boyu Wang (bw2387 [AT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a senior in SEAS majoring in Computer Science. Her interests include game development, computer graphics, embedded programming, and Internet culture. She has designed user interfaces for web, data visualization, 3D scenes, and games. She has also done research in using Arduinos for building occupancy forecasting. She will hold office hours Thursday 3–5pm in the TA/CA Help Room.


Ben Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant. Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction, Fifth Edition. Addison-Wesley, 2010, ISBN-10: 0-321-53735-1. (Recommended. Available used at numerous sites.)

Additional reading material will be announced in the syllabus and in class.


Assignments will be carried out with a variety of tools, ranging from paper, pencils, scissors, and tape, to computer software. The software that we will be using includes the myBalsamiq collaborative prototyping environment (we will provide you with free access later in the course), and an Interactive Development Environment (IDE) for HTML5 and JavaScript. Free IDEs that you may wish to consider include: the evaluation version of Sublime Text 2 or the beta version of Sublime Text 3; the open-source Aptana Studio 3 (based on Eclipse); the open-source Adobe Brackets code editor; Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 Enterprise (available free to Columbia CS students through Dreamspark) or Community; and the Macintosh-only editor, TextWrangler.

Here are some places to learn about the software we will be using:

Rules of the Game

You are responsible for all material covered in class and all the assigned reading, including any changes or additions announced in class. If you miss a class, please talk to someone who didn't. (Copies of each class's slides will be linked to the syllabus.)

Course material will be found on the web through Courseworks, and the syllabus and assignments will be linked through

Submission Policy

Each assignment should be submitted electronically through CourseWorks, before the beginning of the class (1:10pm) on the day the assignment is due. If you don't submit a homework assignment on time, the following lateness policy applies.

Lateness Policy

All assignments are due at 1:10pm on the scheduled due date before, not during or after, class. To make the deadlines more manageable, each student will be allowed four “late days” during the semester for which lateness will not be penalized. However, no late days may be applied to the final project, and only one late day may be applied to the first assignment. Otherwise, your four late days may be used as you see fit.

Anything turned in past the start of class until midnight the next day is one day late. Every (partial) day thereafter that an assignment is late, including weekends and holidays, counts as an additional late day.

Absolutely no late work will be accepted beyond that accounted for by your late days. If you're not done on time, please be sure to turn in whatever you have completed on time to receive partial credit. Now, please go back and read this section over again!

Academic Honesty

Please make sure that you've read the Department of Computer Science Policies and Procedures Regarding Academic Honesty. Collaboration on any assignment (except as an approved part of group projects) is, as in all Columbia courses, strictly prohibited. Infractions will be reported to the Department of Computer Science Academic Committee and referred to the Deans.

Syllabus and Assignments