COMS W4170: User Interface Design

Fall 2016, Tu/Th 1:10–2:25pm, 313 Fayerweather

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 2015 (coming soon), Fall 2014, 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 many 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 directly 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

Boyu Wang (bw2387 [AT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a Master's student in SEAS, majoring in Computer Science. Her interests include networks, game development, computer graphics, and embedded programming. She has designed user interfaces for web, data visualization, 3D scenes, games, and network design. This summer she worked at Vencore Labs on automating dynamic configuration of networks in the cloud. She will hold office hours Mondays and Wednesdays 2–4pm in the TA/CA Help Room.

Katie Lin (kl2532 [AT] columbia [DOT] edu) is a Master's student in SEAS, majoring in Computer Science. Her CS interests include health informatics, HCI, and work to promote women in computing with CU WiCS. This past summer, she worked at the Ma'ayan Laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, helping visualize the MCF10A breast cancer cell line data that measure changes in genomic, proteomic, and viability over time after perturbation. She will hold office hours Tuesdays and Thursdays noon–1pm 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.)


Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant Maxine Cohen, Steven Jacobs, Nikla Elmqvist, and Nicholas Diakopoulos. Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human–Computer Interaction, Sixth Edition. Addison-Wesley, 2017, ISBN-13: 9780134380384. (Recommended.)

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 3 (beta) or 2; the open-source NetBeans IDE; 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 Imagine (formerly 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.

For example, this means that if you use GitHub to maintain material for an individual or team assignment, you must use a private repository whose access is appropriately restricted. (Note that the GitHub Student Developer Pack is free for registered students and includes a "Personal" GitHub plan that allows the creation of unlimited private repositories.)

Syllabus and Assignments