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This assignment is designed for an introductory human-computer interaction course. Students identify usability issues in everyday things. For example, confusing light switches, street signs, mobile applications, gaming consoles, or microwave ovens. There are three learning objectives: 1) demonstrate the ability to notice the usability of everyday things, 2) correctly apply usability terms and concepts, and 3) design a solution that addresses an identified weakness.

ACM Digital Library Entry


Students are encouraged to post their observations on a shared online platform or a learning management system. This allows students to see and comment on each other’s work. A selection of observations are discussed in class and students are encouraged to continue online discussion outside of class.


We have students complete the assignment three times throughout the course as they gain more exposure to usability concepts. This is
not a heavy burden since each observation takes only one or two hours to complete, and it allows opportunities to tailor the assignment to specific concepts covered later in the course (e.g., identifying how cognitive affordance and physical affordance are supported, as opposed to affordance more generally). Other instructors may decide only one or two assignments are sufficient.


To help students generate ideas, the slide deck on the usability design principles provides an example of each design principle. They are also shown a website (which is referenced in the assignment) that has many different objects that also serve as possible examples [2]. After covering these examples, a brief class discussion on the assignment where students are challenged to think of some examples is sufficient for students to understand the assignment requirements and begin thinking of examples themselves. Students who continue to struggle to find appropriate examples for their assignment may approach their instructor or classmates for ideas.


[1] Norman, D. 2013. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition. Basic Books.

[2] Darnell, Michael J. Bad Human Factors Designs. Accessed July 13, 2021.

Engagement Highlights

In this assignment, we leverage the principle Make It Matter from the NCWIT Engagement Practices Framework by invoking the practices of student choice and using meaningful content. This is accomplished by asking students to elaborate on a chosen usability concept they see applied to something in their everyday life. As such, this assignment is open-ended and encourages engagement from students of all backgrounds. Additionally, students are asked to share their usability observations with others in the class to support interaction. This interaction may lead to deeper discussions of usability concepts.

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