Bringing Design to Software
© Addison-Wesley, 1996

Profile 9.

The Apple Computer Interface Design Project
Profile Author: Terry Winograd

In his software design manifesto (Chapter 1), Mitchell Kapor raised the question of teaching software design-what kind of curriculum would foster the breadth of vision and experience that is needed by skilled software designers? In 1990, when Kapor posed this question, there were only a few schools around the world offering instruction in human-computer interaction or in design-related software engineering. These schools offered programs primarily in departments of computer science, with a few in information science or applied psychology. There was little crossover between these technical fields and the traditional design disciplines, and there was little education in the design-studio style of reflection in action, as described by Donald Schön in Chapter 8.

In the few years since the manifesto, new teaching programs have appeared, and older ones have shifted their emphasis in a design direction. One of the catalysts promoting this change has been the Apple Computer Interface Design Project, initiated by Joy Mountford in 1991. As a director of research on human-computer interaction at Apple Computer, Mountford was a strong advocate of interdisciplinary work (see Mountford, 1990). She recognized that the students who were graduating from schools into industry did not have the understanding or the skills to do effective design in interdisciplinary teams. To encourage schools to train students for real-world interaction design, Apple set up a competition that called for projects from interdisciplinary student teams. Apple invited selected universities; provided equipment grants to facilitate the introduction of new courses centered on the projects; and assigned one of their researchers or designers to serve as a liaison to each site, to critique and facilitate the projects.

In the 4 years that the project has run so far, schools have participated from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, India, Japan, Sweden, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In addition to technically oriented schools, such as Carnegie Mellon University, the Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), and the University of Toronto, participants have included art and design schools, such as the Art Center College of Design (Los Angeles), the Royal College of Art (London), and the National Institute for Design (India). Even in those cases where the official connection is with a technical department, the project requires participation from faculty and students in disciplines ranging from art and design to psychology, communications, and anthropology.

The emphasis in the projects is for students to learn how to work in interdisciplinary teams in an iterative, user-centered design process. Students are required to develop prototypes that they test with representative users, and to modify their designs on the basis of the testing results. The deliverables include prototypes of hardware and software, along with documentation (in video as well as writing) of the social, commercial, and educational aspects of the proposed projects. The projects have ranged widely in topics, responding to a broad design brief provided each year by Apple. Figure 9.4 shows one of the projects from 1994.


Figure 9.3 The PenPal A student design team from Stanford University developed prototypes of the hardware and software for a portable communications device that enables children to learn by creating images, integrating images with sound and drawing, and sharing the results across the Internet. The design included the physical configuration, the software interface, and a proposed development and business plan for turning the prototype into a project. (Source: Courtesy of Stanford University.)

At most of the participating universities, courses or course sequences have been established around the project. Apple's support has enabled faculty to gain credibility in establishing credited courses across department boundaries, and has provided facilities for student work.
The Apple project was initiated at a time when there was growing interest in teaching software design as a design discipline (see, for example, Winograd, 1990). In addition to the universities that have participated in the Apple project, a wide variety of new and evolving teaching programs are appearing around the world. It is interesting to note both the diversity in their origins and the similarities in the style of teaching that they are developing. Some of the diversity in approaches is illustrated by three teaching programs that have been developed by authors of chapters in this book: the program in Computer-Related Design at the Royal College of Art in London, the program in Human-Computer Interaction Design at Stanford University, and the Program in Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The Royal College of Art (Crampton Smith)

This Program in Computer-Related Design at London's Royal College of Art (RCA) was initiated in 1989 by Gillian Crampton Smith. It offers a masters' degree to students from of architecture, industrial design, graphic design, furniture design, fashion, software engineering, and psychology. The teaching style draws on the techniques of an art and design school, centered on studio courses that develop the skills of the artist-designer, as described by Crampton Smith and Philip Tabor in Chapter 3. RCA student teams have participated both in the Apple project and in a similar University Workshop that Mountford created at Interval Research. RCA projects tend emphasize the visual aspects of the interface, and the design of the interactions.

Stanford University (Winograd, Hartfield, Kelley, Liddle, Bennett, De Young)

The Program in Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID) at Stanford evolved as a series of courses within the computer-science department, primarily at the masters-degree level. The Apple project has been the focus of an interdisciplinary course combining faculty from computer science and from the product-design program (in mechanical engineering). Students have participated from a variety of departments, including the communications department, which has done innovative research on computer interfaces (see Profile 7 on Microsoft's Bob). One of the most prominent elements of the Stanford program has been the extensive use of mentors from industry-design and multimedia firms, as well as the computer industry-who work with student-project groups (see Bennett et al., 1992). Stanford's geographic good fortune of being located in an area with a heavy concentration of expertise makes it possible to provide each group with ongoing commentary on their work by experienced practitioners. Work with mentors complements the frequent in-class student presentations of ongoing work, designed to enable students to learn from the ideas and experiences of their peers.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Kapor, Kuhn)

The Program in Media Arts and Sciences at MIT is one of the most prominent teaching programs in human-computer interaction, covering a wide range of teaching and research in areas relating to computing and communications media. A multidisciplinary team is developing a course entitled the Software Design Studio, employing the design-studio method that is traditional in architectural and urban design. Students are presented with a rich, multilayered problem to be solved, and have a short time to propose initial concrete solutions to that problem. Successive cycles of criticism and modification of the proposals follow, and creative speculation and innovation are encouraged. At the end of the term, each student presents a working prototype to a jury of eminent software designers. The initial class project was reinventing the community weekly, which calls for designing an on-line version of a weekly community newspaper. The emphasis is not on the adaptation of existing content to current mechanisms, such as world wide web, but rather on encouraging students to use the constraints and affordances of the new medium creatively, to transform the genre itself (as discussed by Brown and Duguid, in Chapter 7).

Suggested Readings

Brenda Laurel (ed). The Art of Human-Computer Interaction. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley, 1990.
Gary Strong, New Directions in HCI Education, Research, and Practice. interactions, 2:1 (January, 1995), 69-81.