Human-computer interaction textbook uses hands on methods, introduces usability 'trade offs'

November 19, 2001

BLACKSBURG, Va., -- Mary Beth Rosson, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, and John M. Carroll, professor and director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech, have published an undergraduate textbook, Usability Engineering: Scenario-based Development of Human-Computer Interaction (Morgan-Kaufmann, 2002).

The book offers a combination of introductory human-computer interaction (HCI) material and hands-on usability methods not found in any other book on this subject matter. It integrates concepts and applications in requirements, design, and evaluation of interactive systems.

The HCI content is focused on material that is either central to an appreciation of human needs and preferences or that provides crucial support for the analysis, design, and evaluation of effective interactive systems. The book contains more content on requirements analysis, prototyping, and documentation design than most books in this area, but also contains less on human perception and cognition.

Also unique to this book is the authors' use of tradeoffs rather than the more commonly found HCI guidelines. The tradeoffs accurately reflect the challenges faced by designers and programmers in the real world and teach critical thinking and analysis to solve the problems encountered in the engineering cycle rather than a reliance on inflexible rules that are often inadequate.

The book's approach is to introduce and give an overview of the history of HCI and its concepts while emphasizing a project-based approach that allows readers to see how a project develops at different stages of the usability engineering cycle. The authors favor a scenario-based approach to usability, which uses scenarios as a representation that allows for analysis and for design of use. A scenario describes an existing or envisioned system from the perspective of one or more users and includes a narration of their goals, plans, and reactions.

"Everyone interested in good usability design knows that human-centered, iterative design with field studies, iterative prototypes and testing is the proper way to proceed," said Don Norman, emeritus professor at University of California San Diego, former chief scientist at Apple Computer, and author of many books on design.

"But up to now, learning these skills is not easy, for we have lacked a single, systematic source of information about the methods. This book finally solves the problem. Here, in one comprehensive, easy to read text, there is extensive coverage of the multiple stages of a good interface development process. The book is ideally suited for a problem-based curriculum, in which students simultaneously learn good development processes while completing a term project. The book gives excellent guidance, and the case study approach is an excellent organizer and motivator. At last, the proper problem-based textbook."

Andrew Dillon, dean of the Graduate School of Library Science at the University of Texas, said, "This is a book that has long needed to be written, and the authors are among the very few who were capable of writing it. It fills a gap in the HCI literature with sufficient depth to serve as a landmark for future efforts. Now, when students ask, 'Is there any one book that covers all these issues?' I will point them first to Rosson and Carroll."

Terry Winograd, professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, said, "During the time I was reading the manuscript for this book, a student came in for advice on a dissertation project he had begun, focusing on interaction design for a new application in civil engineering. My first reaction was, "You need Rosson and Carroll's book." It was clear to me that its systematic approach to users and usability was sorely missing in his initial software-driven approach. I could think of no better way to get him started down a more productive path than to give him this book. I expect scenes like this to be repeated often in the future, as Rosson and Carroll's work becomes available to a wide audience of both teachers and practitioners."
PR CONTACT: Sally Harris 540-231-6759 Faculty contact: Mary Beth Rosson 540-231-6470,

Virginia Tech

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