CSE 171 Homepage
User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues
Spring 2005


The final exam was given Tuesday, 7 June, from 11:30 to 2:30 in Center 216 (our usual class room). Here are links to the this year's final and the final exam from the 2003 of this course.

The TA, Rares Saftoiu, and I will hold a review session on Monday, 6 June, from noon to 13:50 in CSB (Cognitive Science Bldg) 004. Rares will also have extra office hours on that day, from 14:00 to 15:30 in APM 4402, and I will be in my office most of the day, but definitely from 16:00 to 17:00, and will also drop into Rares office hours. In addition, i will be available from 14:00 to 15:00 on Friday, 3 June.

There is a wiki for this class (and also CSE 271) to use, at http://cse-gsa.ucsd.edu/wiki/UserInterfaceDesign; it includes material from CSE 271, Spring 2003 that is now out of date.

The midterm of Thursday 12 May is online; the median was 78, the mean 77, standard deviation 11.5, high 97, low 44.

Homework and readings are posted on their respective webpages, not given in class. All webpages are subject to frequent and/or unannounced updates. You should check this page frequently for notices. Also, be sure to reload pages frequently, because sometimes they are updated frequently!

In cases where two (or more) students' answers to homework problemsare strongly overlapping, a grade of zero will be assigned, and there will be more drastic consequences for repeat offenders. You can talk with other students about how to approach homework problems, but you are not allowed to work together on solutions. See the Integrity of Scholarship Agreement (from Scott Baden) and UCSD's official policies on Plagariasm; see also the most recent amended policy (sorry, it's in MS Word). You are expected to abide by these rules; failure to do so can have serious consequences.

The class notes do not cover everything you need to know for this course, and their emphasis often does not reflect the importance of material. Also, the notes DO NOT serve as a substitute for the lectures or the assigned readings. Moreover, the lectures and readings go beyond the text, which is somewhat below the level of the class as a whole, although its content is very important for practical applications. In addition, there will be handouts, diagrams on the board, and possibly guest appearances at lectures. In short, all of assigned readings, lectures, notes, and text are absolutely necessary; moreover, some topics are only introduced in the homework.


New technologies provide the means to build superb new systems, as well as phenomenally ugly and awkward systems that still fully meet their performance and functional requirements. This course will explore several approaches towards a scientific understanding of basic issues, such as usability, representation and coordination that arise in interface design and related areas, such as how to best organize complex information in multimedia. There will be some focus on social issues, semiotics, and new media interfaces. See the course outline for more detail.

We may distinguish the following levels of interface design issues:

  1. technology;
  2. ergonomics;
  3. individual psychology; and
  4. social, cultural, and organizational issues.
The course will focus on the last two levels, especially the last, and in this regard will consider (at least) the following: We will consider some case studies, one of which is a system built at UCSD CSE to support distributed cooperative software engineering over the web, which can be seen at /groups/tatami/kumo/exs/. Issues here include: how to present proofs as webpages; how to make proofs easier to follow, e.g., by linking formal material to background material; how to motivate difficult proof steps; proof editors vs. proof browsers; and direct manipulation vs. command line interfaces. Algebraic semiotics will be developed as a fundamental tool for addressing such issues. We will also consider (briefly) other case studies, including websites built as projects for the graduate version of this course, CSE 271.


CSE 20, 21, 100 or equivalent, and the ability to comprehend texts in sociology, cognitive science, and linguistics. You will need to be able to understand and use discrete mathematics. Some experience in industry may be helpful.

Tuesday, Thursday, 12:30 to 13:45 pm, in Center 216
Section ID 527935, Section A00
The discussion section is Wednesday, 16:00 - 16:50, in Center 119
My office hours begin at 17:00 on Wednesdays.
The class TA is Rares Saftoiu, with office hours 14:00 to 15:00 Wednesday, in EBU-1 6307B.

The only required book is McCracken and Wolfe; other required readings will made available on the web or handed out in class.

This is available at the UCSD bookstore; it seems to be the best current text for this course, but it has some limitations, so we will supplement it in many ways. The book's website has some useful material, especially for the XML appendix.

Recommended Books

All of these should be on reserve at the Science and Engineering Library. The first is a fairly comprehensive review of HCI, and some readings will be taken from it. The second is a colorful overview of the important and rapidly developing new field of cognitive linguistics. The third takes a "classical" approach to interface design grounded in experimental psychology, which the fourth tries to update. The last three address more specialized domains.

Some Other Relevant Books

The first book above is an amusing overview of some issues in design, while the second is a fascinating case history of a large design project that failed. The third book is temporarily out of print; it contains essays on various social aspects of computing. The book by Linde goes into stories in great depth, while the book by Turner discusses metaphor and blending in some depth. The book by Nadin treats the relevance of semiotics to design, among other things. The UCSD bookstore should have a few copies of the last book, for those who want to go deeper into the algebraic aspect of algebraic semiotics. We will use these books very little, if at all, but some of you may want them for further enrichment.
Additional Information

There will be homework assignments, a midterm, and a final. Homework will count for 30% of your grade, the midterm for 20%, and the final for 50%. In special cases, it may be possible to substitute a project for part of the final exam.

  1. Reading assignments.
  2. Class notes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, A.
  3. Homework assignments.
  4. Miscellaneous. These items were assembled by the teacher for your interest and/or amusement.

The previous version of this course has links to its midterm, and to quizes and exams for previous versions of this class.

Other Resources
Warning: This is not an easy course; it requires understanding some complex and subtle concepts, and applying them to real examples. It is also neither a technical course in HTML, JavaScript, Java, XML, etc., nor a touchy-feely course in web aesthetics; rather it explores various principled approaches to user interface design. You are expected to already know (or be able to quickly pick up) HTML, and to be able to read intermediate level cognitive science, sociology, and philosophy. There may be a little programming, and some mathematics will be needed. The lectures will generally discuss topics related to the readings under the assumption that you have already understood the readings. It may be easy to deceive yourself into thinking that you have understood when you haven't, so please take care. The course is oriented towards concepts rather than programming, and many homework and exam questions will have an essay character. There is an emphasis on social aspects of design. Grading will be strongly influenced by how well you can employ the concepts developed in this particular class.
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Last modified: Sun Jun 12 09:54:39 PDT 2005