INF 148

In4matx 148:

Ubiquitous Computing
Prototyping and Projects

How to Develop and Communicate Innovative Ubicomp Designs

Course Description and Overview

This course introduces students to prototyping techniques used in the design of ubiquitous computing systems and smart environments. During the course, students will apply these prototyping skills in the development of an individual design portfolio and in a group project, working alongside professors and graduate students in the Department of Informatics.

At the conclusion of this course, students should:

  • Be familiar with a variety of high- and low-fidelity prototyping techniques, including sketching, hybrid sketching, physical prototyping, interactive prototyping, narrative storyboarding, interactive storyboarding, role-playing, and video prototyping, and demonstrate expertise with at least three of these techniques;
  • Have experience thinking about the diversity of research challenges and application areas encompassed by the ubiquitous computing paradigm;
  • Understand the purpose and structure of a design critique meeting and have experience presenting and soliciting feedback about their design ideas from others; and
  • Have gained experience participating in ubiquitous computing research in the Department of Informatics, producing multiple research prototypes under the supervision of a faculty, postdoc, or graduate student as part of a project team.

The focus of this course is not (necessarily) the implementation of high-fidelity ubicomp prototypes, but rather gaining experience across a breadth of prototyping techniques that communicate different aspects of ubiquitous computing system design to a students' future clients, colleagues, or employers.


Office: Donald Bren Hall, room 5221
Office hours: By appointment or instant messaging
IM: Monday mornings

Teaching Assistant

Miya Sylvester
Office: Donald Bren Hall, room 5054
Office hours: Wednesdays, 1:30-3:00pm

Class Schedule

The class meets Monday evenings from 6:30pm - 9:20pm in Donald Bren Hall, room 1300. (The room for the course may change, depending on the availability of a more suitable location.)

A tentative week-by-week schedule is available, but is subject to change throughout the quarter.


  • INF 45 (Patterns of Software Construction) or
  • I&C SCI 23 or I&C SCI H23 or CSE 23 (Fundamental Data Structures) or
  • Permission of the instructor

Texts & Materials

There are two textbooks for this course:

The first book provides the design underpinnings for the course and includes wonderful examples sampled from years of computer science research projects. The second is a focused tutorial on the prototyping techniques that we will cover during the quarter. Both books will be available on-line and at the campus bookstore.

Other things that it you should acquire for the course:

  • A sketchbook
  • A variety of prototyping supplies (I'll let you know what you'll need in advance of each class to participate in our hands-on sessions.)


Students taking the class for pass/fail credit must receive the equivalent of a C (70%) or better in order to earn a passing grade.

Individual Assignments and Portfolio

Over the course of the quarter, students will be introduced to a wide variety of sketching and prototyping techniques. Nearly every lecture meeting will include a hands-on "studio" session focused on developing students' skills with a particular class of design techniques, as well as making them aware of how these techniques might be used to communicate particular aspects of a design.

Each week, students will be expected to complete an individual design exercise, which will give them an additional opportunity to practice applying a sketching or prototyping technique. (Exercises 5 and 6 may be completed in a small group of 2-4 students.) Each of these exercises will address a design challenge from a different sub-area within ubiquitous computing.

The deliverables from these exercises will be due at the beginning of the first class meeting after they are assigned. They will be evaluated primarily on the creativity of thinking represented and the communicative effectiveness of the deliverable; less focus will be placed on the artistic merit of the submissions. Of the six exercises, only five four will be counted towards students' individual assignments grade for the course; the lowest (or 1 missed) exercise score will be dropped. Exercise 6 will be considered an extra-credit assignment and can earn students up to 75 additional points, or 3.125% towards their final grade (i.e., half the points of each of the other weekly exercises).

ELABORATED: Students will also complete one, in-depth design project on their own, where they will explore one of the design challenges from the weekly exercises more deeply and from different perspectives. The outcome from this project will be a more thoughtfully developed ubicomp product or system design, comprising at least 20 sketches or prototypes using at least three of the techniques introduced in the course (e.g., a suite of artifact design sketches, a foamcore model of the artifact, and a video sketch of how the artifact might be used in a real-world scenario). More details...

Group Project

Students will work in teams of 3-4 to develop prototypes for a research project in the Department of Informatics.

The goals for the group project are:

  • To gain experience and exposure to working as part of a research group, under the supervision of a faculty member or graduate student, and
  • To analyze a design challenge and think systematically about the best combination of prototypes to communicate a single, final design or a number of design alternatives (depending on the needs of the research project).

Over the course of the quarter, these student teams will meet regularly with a faculty member, postdoc, or graduate student mentor, and work collaboratively with their mentor to develop sketches and prototypes for a ubicomp technology related to an ongoing research project. These prototypes might be used to explore a variety of form factors or user interfaces for a novel technology, or they might capture different facets of an existing ubicomp system so that potential users of the technology can provide feedback about the design.

The main deliverables for the group project are:

  • After meeting with their project mentor, each group will produce a one-page report describing the research challenge that they will be addressing, the anticipated audience for the final sketches/prototypes, and any relevant design constraints that they have been given (or identified, themselves). (Due Wednesday, April 18, 5:00pm PDT)
  • UPDATED: Initial sketches and storyboards representing a large diversity of potential design alternatives, presented at a poster session for feedback from mentors, the instructor, student peers, and other members of the Informatics community. (Week 5)
  • ELABORATED: A 10-15 minute presentation of the final design or design alternatives, comprising at least three of the techniques introduced in the course (e.g., storyboards illustrating multiple use cases, an animated sequence showing an interface walkthrough suitable for showing to potential users, and an interactive artifact that incorporates some degree of computation). The final sketches/prototypes should reflect significant input from both the project mentor and the course instructor. This presentation should be a professional-quality overview of the research problem(s), an explanation of the design challenges and alternatives considered, and an exhibition/demonstration of the final sketches/prototypes. This is also a great opportunity for you to provide the class with an overview of the research context in which the project was completed. (Given during the final exam period)
  • A professional-quality portfolio that presents an overview of the group project, at least 20 of your best representations of the sketches/prototypes that you developed over the course of the project (e.g., skteches, photographs of physical artifacts, video stills), and 2-3 pages (single-spaced) of written narrative to explain the rationale behind the design decisions that you made over the course of the project. (Due at the beginning of the final examination period)
  • Completion of a self- and peer-evaluation form (Word, PDF) summarizing the strengths, weaknesses, and relative contributions of all members of the project group. (Due at the beginning of the final examination period)

Some guidance for assembling your portfolios -- both for the individual and group projects -- can be found here; note that this overview is for a more implementation-heavy version of this course.

Class Participation

Students are expected to be appropriately prepared for each lecture meeting, to attend all lectures on time, and to conduct themselves in a professional manner. If necessary, attendance and reading quizzes may be given at the start of each lecture.

During the course, students will have multiple opportunities to present and elicit peer feedback on their sketches and prototypes--based on both the weekly design exercises and the individual design project. A significant portion of each student's class participation grade will be determined by their performance in these critique sessions, which will be held at the beginning of class during most weeks of the quarter. When assigned to have their own work reviewed, students are expected to be prepared to provide a brief, professional presentation of their sketches and/or prototypes and to help guide the discussion. Students are also expected to provide thoughtful, respectful, and constructive comments when evaluating others' work.

There may also be short reading quizzes given at the start of each class meeting, particularly on weeks when no crit is held.

Other Policies

Students are expected to adhere to the university's code of academic conduct. Cases of suspected academic misconduct will be immediately forwarded to the Dean of Student Affairs, and will be pursued to resolution. This is an unpleasant process for all involved, so please do not put yourself in this situation.

This is the first time this course is being offered in this format. As a result, the syllabus and class schedule is subject to change at any time throughout the quarter. All modifications to the syllabus or schedule will both be announced in class and on this web page. Students are responsible for knowing when these changes are made and should make it a regular habit to consult this web page.