Understanding the Creative Process
and how online crowds can drive innovative solutions

Spring 2012
05-899 C
TTh 12-1:20p
SCR 201 (Craig St)
Steven Dow
spdow {at} cs. cmu .edu
NSH 3615 (by appt)

Final class presentations are open to the public. Please join us on May 3rd from noon-1:30pm in 6501 Gates-Hillman Center (GHC) on Carnegie Mellon campus.

The IndieGoGo blog wrote a feature story on the course and our five student crowdfunding campaigns. Check out the blog story and please fund the student innovation projects!
  • Votability. A service designed to help disabled voters learn about voting locations and to arrange carpools on voting day.
  • HomeEnergyGuru. An exploration of what your smart bill will look like when every home is connected to a smart grid that more incrementally monitors energy usage.
  • Real Aware. A website service and certification board that will help identify restaurants that recycle their food waste.
  • TestTube. An application that helps everyday people find out about cool research by watching short video interviews with researchers.
  • SuperCook. A tablet-based cooking game prototype that can get kids involved in cooking healthy meals and eating healthier.

The field of HCI often takes the creative process for granted. Do creative solutions arrive out of thin air or are there specific strategies that help ensure success? In this course, students will learn tools and processes for innovating practical solutions to real societal problems involving the interaction between humans and technology. Students will engage in a semester-long project to understand and frame a problem, to generate diverse concepts, to mock-up and compare alternatives, to pitch and prototype an idea, and ultimately, to deliver a novel HCI solution. Throughout the semester, students will take advantage of an exciting and relatively untapped resource for feedback. They will leverage the wisdom of crowds — through micro-task platforms, online contractors, social media, and crowdfunding — to drive an HCI innovation process. The goal is to help students see a connection between design choices and real-world outcomes by enabling authentic interactions with online crowds. Through selected readings, this course aims to provide a theoretical foundation for the cognitive and social aspects of HCI design processes.

Course Topics
  • Needfinding, interviewing, analyzing social media
  • Divergent thinking, brainstorming, generating alternatives
  • Synthesis techniques and problem framing
  • Storytelling, storyboarding, and video production
  • Process modeling, innovation, design theory
  • Web design, paper prototyping
  • Crowdsourcing, web analytics, A-B testing

Students will come to better understand and appreciate the creative process in HCI through doing design, using online crowds to iterate their designs, and reflecting on design theory.
  • Develop a vocabulary for discussing the creative process in HCI. This will help students articulate key problem constraints and opportunities and form strategies for ideation and iteration.
  • Cultivate a creativity toolkit. Students will learn techniques for diverging, converging, prototyping, reframing, and refining design solutions. Learn to conduct productive design critiques and interviews with potential stakeholders.
  • Learn how to leverage Web-based resources — including design tools and galleries, Web analytics, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and social media — to inform and drive an innovation process.
  • Reflect on the creative process. Understand how cognitive, social and environmental factors influence creative thinking, problem framing, team dynamics, and economic decision making in design.

This is a studio/discussion-based class with time devoted to lecture, paper discussions, design activities, student presentations, and design crits. Students will receive a grade at mid-term and again at semester's end. Grades will reflect project performance, process documentation, class attendance, and team participation. Throughout the semester, interactions with online crowds will provide students an external source of feedback. Students should allow these interactions to shape their design concepts.
Grading guidelines:

P1: Warm-up
P2: Understand
P3: Ideate
P4: Mockup
P5: Pitch
P6: Prototype
Final presentation & report

Attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to arrive at class on time, participate during reading discussions, and be a good team member. As a show of respect to fellow students, laptops and cellphones should remain off. During crits, students are expected to offer constructive criticism on their classmates' work. If students must miss class for an excusable reason, get permission IN ADVANCE from the instructor and keep teammates informed.

Every student in the course should read all the required papers. Each student will also be responsible for presenting a topic. The topics will be divided up and a schedule made up near the beginning of the course. Presenting each topic will involve: reading the given paper (or two short papers), preparing a 5-minute summary (slides not required, but allowable), and leading the in-class discussion on that topic.

Sign up for a reading slot on the wiki page!

All enrolled students will be able to access readings through a password protected website. The following books are recommended for students who want to venture deeper into the course topics:
Week Tuesday Thursday

January 17

Lecture: Course Introduction

Assign: P1: Warm-up with Web ads,
P1: Grading rubric

January 19

Lecture: The Role of Crits

In class: P1 interim crit, reading discussion

Due: P1 three ad mock-ups


Berkun on How to run a design Crit, Dow, et al. on Prototyping Dynamics


January 24

Lecture: Identifying Problems

In class: P1 final crit, reading discussion, P2 discussion

Due: P1 final ads


Lohtia, et al. on factors that affect Web banner ad click-through rates

Assign: P2: Understand a problem,
P2: Grading rubric

January 26

Lecture: Needfinding

In class: reading discussion, activities on analyzing social media and interviewing


Rolf Faste on Perceiving User Needs, Patnaik and Becker on the how and why of Needfinding, the Stanford d.school on Needfinding, Observing, and Idea Logs


January 31

Lecture: Interviewing

In class: P2 interim crit

Due: P2 social media analysis, preliminary personas, and interview questions

February 2

Lecture: Innovation

In class: readings, P2 worksession


Buxton on Process, and Vogel, Cagan, and Boatwright on People Fueling Innovation


February 7

Lecture: Synthesis
(Guest: Haakon Faste)

In class: Readings discussion, P2 worksession (opportunity statements)


Kolko on abductive reasoning and synthesis techniques

February 9

In class: P2 final crit

Due: P2 needfinding presentations

Assign: P3: Ideate possible futures,
P3: Grading rubric


February 14

Lecture: Ideation
(Guest: Haakon Faste)

In class: Readings discussion, ideation techniques, sketching exercises, P3 worksession


Diehl and Stroebe on Productivity Loss, Sutton and Hargadon on Brainstorming Groups in Context, and Stanford d.school on brainstorming

February 16

Lecture: Crowdsourcing, part 1

In class: data analysis for P1 ad designs, Mechanical Turk tutorial, P3 worksession


IDEO's Concept Worksheet


February 21

In class: P3 final crit

Due: P3 ideation, synthesis, and 6 most promising directions

Assign: P4: Mockups,
P4: Grading rubric

February 23

Lecture: Storyboarding

In class: reading discussion, sketching activities


Foss on Dramatic Structure, Davidoff et al. on Speed Dating


February 28

In class: P4 interim crit

Due: P4 rough storyboards for 6 concepts

March 1

Lecture: Crowdsourcing, part 2

In class: reading discussion, tutorial on MindSwarms


Sherman's Guide to Crowdsourcing and Kittur et al. on Crowdsourcing User Studies


March 6

In class: P4 final crit, P5 discussion

Due: P4 final storyboards, results of online speed dating

Assign: P5: Pitch your idea,
P5: Grading rubric

March 8

Lecture: Crowdfunding
(Guest: Jill Miller)

In class: reading discussion


Gerber et al. on Crowdfunding, IndieGoGo's Ten hints on crowdfunding


March 13

Spring Break

March 15

Spring Break


March 20

Lecture: Crowdfunding part 2

In class: P5 interim crit

Due: P5 rough script and storyboard for crowdfunding video

March 22

In class: reading discussion, video production tutorial, P5 worksession


van Sijll on Film conventions, Aronson on using stills, using layers, and using croma key effects in final cut pro, Kirkman on Lighting for Interviews


March 27

Lecture: Entrepreneurship
(Guest: Babs Carryer)

In class: P5 interim crit #2

Due: P5 updated video script/storyboards and draft of crowdfunding campaign

March 29

In class: P5 worksession


April 3

In class: P5 final crit

Due: P5 final videos, crowdfunding site, and marketing materials

April 5

Lecture: Prototyping

In class: reading discussion; wizard activity


Houde and Hill on What prototypes prototype and Synder on Making a paper prototype

Assign: P6: Prototype your concepts,
P6: Grading rubric


April 10

In class: reading discussion, P6 paper prototyping activity

Due: P6 paper prototypes


Nielson on heuristic evaluation

April 12

Lecture: Web Design

In class: P6 worksession


Mike Horn's HTML5 Forms and JavaScript example


April 17

Lecture: Evaluation

In class: reading discussion, activity on web analytics and stats


Kohavi on a Practical Guide to Controlled Experiments on the Web, Gonick and Smith on the Cartoon Guide to Statistics

April 19

No Class: Spring Carnival!


April 24

In class: P6 interim crit

Due: P6 preliminary web prototypes, evaluation plan, crowdfunding updates

April 26

In class: P6 worksession; statistics tutorial


May 1

In class: course evaluations, P6 worksession (make updates based on A-B testing)

May 3

In class: final presentations (open to public)

Due: Final presentations. Teams should present problem framing, design concepts, process documentation, funding results, A-B results, and final design.


May 8


Update your team wiki page (and if necessary, deliver rewards to funders!)

May 10


Due: one to two-page reflection on your innovation process (individual assignment)

HCII Policy Statement
While there is a university-wide disciplinary committee which handles serious disciplinary matters referred to it, the responsibility for establishing disciplinary guidelines rests with each department. It is felt that the following set of rules can be uniformly and fairly applied in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. First, cheating in any form is not permitted as an ethical or professional behavior and will not be tolerated. Cheating includes, but is not necessarily limited to:
  • The use of unauthorized materials including computer programs in preparation of an assignment or during an examination.
  • The submission or use of falsified data.
  • The submission of work that is not the student's own.
  • Plagiarism- use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work. (See below)
  • The use of an alternate/stand-in/proxy during an examination.
  • Supplying unauthorized data to another student for the preparation of an assignment or during an examination.
  • Collaboration in the preparation of an assignment, unless specifically required or allowed by the instructor, will usually be viewed as cheating. Each student, therefore, is responsible for understanding the policies of the instructor offering any course as they refer to the amount of help and collaboration permitted in preparation of assignments.

    Should any student be found guilty of cheating on a quiz, exam, homework or project, at minimum a zero grade will be recorded and then averaged in with the other grades (should there be any) for the term. Depending on the circumstances, and at the discretion of the instructor and the Department Head, the student may be failed in the course and may be expelled from the University. In any case, the University will be notified of any case of cheating or plagiarism. A repeated occurrence of cheating will be treated as an automatic failure (R grade) and expulsion from the University.

    A subtler form of cheating arises in the form of plagiarism, which is defined as "passing off as one's own the ideas or works of another." Making use of reference material and failing to note (either at all or properly) the original source constitutes plagiarism. When two or more people work together on an individual project and each then turns in his/her individual report as though no collaboration was involved, this also is plagiarism. Simply rewriting another's words or thoughts, or rearranging another's materials, is in every sense plagiarism - unless the student properly and completely references such material, each and every time it is used and to the full extent of usage. Should a case of plagiarism arise, the initial responsibility for judging the seriousness of the offense will rest with the instructor. If the instructor feels that the student was simply sloppy in referencing the material used and plagiarized, a judgment of sloppy professionalism rather than cheating will be made. The grade for the paper, project or thesis will be lowered by at least one grade point. On the other hand, if the instructor feels that the student plagiarized flagrantly, and intentionally meant to mislead the instructor into thinking that the work was the student's own original work, the grade for the report, project or thesis will be recorded as zero.

    It should be emphasized that any group collaboration that involves individual take-home projects, papers or theses should be carried out only with considerable discretion. That is, students are encouraged to discuss and collaborate among themselves on the various principles which are exposited in class or covered in the reading material, etc.; but any group discussion or collaboration which involves any specifics of take-home projects, papers or theses should be avoided - unless the ideas or efforts of others are properly noted. Put differently, when individual work and thinking is called for, group thinking and/or work is entirely inappropriate and is a form of plagiarism. In any case of cheating or plagiarism, the student may request a review of the instructor's decision by the department head, who will then make the final decision for the department. The student, of course, can appeal any faculty decision to the University Committee on Discipline. In a case of flagrant cheating by a graduate student on a thesis, the matter will be forwarded to the Disciplinary Committee for stronger action.