CSE 171: User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues


  1. Please put your email address on your homework, so the TAs can contact you in case of questions.
  2. Problems should be considered tentative until about one week before they are due.
  3. Grades will be strongly influenced by your ability to use the concepts that (we hope!) you are learning in class.
  4. Every problem you hand in will be checked, but only a random subset will be graded (chosen to be maximally helpful to you, subject to our resource limitations); you will get up to 3 points for a problem that is handed in and checked, and up to 10 points for one that is graded; of course, the total for homework will be weighted appropriately when combined with the quizes and final.
  5. Please hand in homework in paper hardcopy form; do not email me or the TA an attachment! Computer printed paper is much preferred; if your handwriting is too hard to read, you will lose points. You may also lose points if your solution is too difficult to understand, whether due to English or technical problems.
  6. Please include the assignment set number and problem number for each question; also be sure to include your name, and the due date. If there are multiple pages, you should staple them; since there are over 100 students, loose pages are likely to be lost, and you will not get credit.
  7. For problems that require use of a computer, always hand in both your input and your output as part of your solution.
  8. Optional problems will earn extra credit if handed in.
  9. Please do not ask the TAs, grader, or professor for help doing your homework; this is not fair to other students. Of course, it is encouraged to ask questions about the content of the course! And you can also ask about bugs in the homework problems (if there are any).

  1. Due 10 April:
    1. Select some interesting website and criticize its design, with respect to meeting its goals. (You can find some interesting websites linked from my "What's Cool" page, e.g., that of Victoria Vesner, or items available by clicking on the walls of Timothy Leary's house-like homepage.)
    2. Discuss Robert Morey's interactive applet proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. In particular, explain why letting the user size the triangle is a good idea.
    3. Design a webpage for your work in this course; hand in a print of the page, and a sheet stating your goals for its design. You will be graded on the quality of the design, and to some extent the appropriateness of the goals. Do not include information about solutions to homework problems on this page! Appropriate topics might be comments on readings, questions about content, further details of examples, further references and links, and new examples. (If you do not have access to file storage with a server, it is ok to wait until we get ACS accounts for the class to hand in this problem, or you may use a server on your PC or someplace else.)
    4. Find at least two inconsistencies in the 1998 CSE 271 class website, at the design level - not spelling, syntax, etc.
  2. Due 17 April:
    1. Use the "Eight Golden Rules" (pages 74-75 of Shneiderman) as a basis for critiquing the websites that you discussed in questions 1 and 2 of last week's homework.
    2. Write about one paragraph on the importance of a website designer (or critic) knowing the goals of a site.
    3. (Optional:) In linguistics, mitigation is defined to be any use of language that has the effect of decreasing the impact of a sentence. One important class of mitigation devices are hedges, which are adjectives and/or adverbs that decrease the impact of a noun or verb. Some examples are "sort of", "sometimes", "possibly", "often", "maybe" and "perhaps". Some other mitigation devices are syntactic, such as placing the main content in a subordinate clause. List as many instances of mitigation as you can find in the first paragraph of section 2.2.5 (page 60) of Shneiderman, and then rewrite the paragraph without them. Draw a brief conclusion from this exercise.
  3. Due 24 April. The first three questions concern the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo:
    1. Write a one paragraph statement of its goal;
    2. Write an interface guideline (capturing its current style); and
    3. Write a brief social impact statement for the zoo, following the checklist on pages 113-114 of Shneiderman.
    4. Give an example of a single signifier in English that has two different signifieds (or in Peircian terminology, a representamen that has two different objects). Give an example showing how the signified can be changed by context.
    5. (Optional) Write a semiotic analysis of the cover of the text by Shneiderman, paying particular attention to the colors, sizes, backgrounds, fonts, etc. of any text, and the structuring of this single complex sign as a composition of smaller signs. Point out any instances of iconicity and indexicality.
  4. Due 1 May:
    1. Make as many suggestions as you can for improving the Wireless Questionnaire, using material in Chapter 4 of Shneiderman and the papers Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective and Techniques for Requirements Elicitation.
    2. Give two real examples of mitigated speech from your own everyday life.
    3. The ordering of items in the readings and homework pages of the Winter 2000 version of this course was reverse chronological. Use semiotic morphisms to explain why that was not a good idea - or why it was, if you think it was.
    4. (Optional) Write approximately one page comparing chapter 14 of Shneiderman with Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective by Mark Ackerman.
  5. Due 8 May:
    1. Give two examples of adjacency pairs (in the technical sense!) that might occur in ordinary conversation, explain why they are examples, and give a context in which they might occur. (Note: See section 6.2.1 of Techniques for Requirements Elicitation. Your answer could be rather brief.)
    2. Apply the notion of adjacency pair to the Windows 2000 logout procedure.
    3. Do a heuristic evaluation (p.126 of Shneiderman) using the "Eight Golden Rules" (p.74-76) and the 5 display organization guidelines (p.80) for the DTUI website; note that this should include a consistency inspection (p.126).
    4. Explain in some detail how a scrollbar is a semiotic morphisms: what is preserved, and what is not? Why? Consider also whether they should be placed on the right or left of windows.
    5. Use CSCW ideas to explain the phenomenon (described p.197 of Shneiderman) that users of computer games generally prefer a display of highest scores over computer generated feedback during play.
    6. (Optional) Describe in some detail (e.g., who, when, where, why) an example of recipient design that you actually observed in your own experience; do not use a variant of the examples given in the class notes.
  6. Due 15 May:
    1. Give an example of a noticeable absence (in its technical sense!) in natural social interaction, explain why it is an example, and give a context in which it might appear. (Note: this can be brief.)
    2. Describe the structure of the simple narrative in the webpage The Structure of Narrative with a parse tree based on the notation given there. Also give an intuitive description of the semiotic morphism that maps narratives to their Labov structures.
    3. Write about 1 page applying Shneiderman's ideas on user interfaces for search capabilities in chapter 15 to the Yahoo! websearch engine.
    4. The first version of the popup explanation windows for the semiotic zoo included all the same links as the exhibit pages themselves; however, I soon deleted them. Explain why that was a good idea - or why it wasn't, if you think it wasn't.
    5. Use semiotic morphisms to explain why it is usually better to present a set of weblinks as a broad list rather than as tree with non-trivial layering of indices (see p.575 of Shneiderman).
    6. (Optional) Find a new item that could have been used as an exhibit in the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo; put it on your class website with an explanation, and give its URL.
    7. (Optional) Give a careful discussion of the list of problems with video on p.491 of Shneiderman, paying careful attention to the fact that the list contains items of completely different character, for example, that some items have a social origin, whole others merely reflect short term limits of current technology. Explain why each item might be a problem.
  7. Due 22 May:
    1. Some pages of the 1998 CSE 271 website used "<hr>" to separate links at the bottom of the page, but now "<br>" is used instead (but not before the first link or after the last). Use semiotic morphisms to explain why that is a good idea - or why it isn't, if you think it isn't.
    2. Modify the code in this link as described there; hand in printed copies of your XML source, your XSL source, your DDT source, and the output that is produced. You will need to use Internet Explorer version 5 for this assignment, since Netscape Navigator does not yet support XML.
    3. Write one paragraph discussing how an XSL file defines a semiotic morphism for XML code written in its style. You should use the above XML homework problem as an example.
    4. Write a paragraph or so explaining how Andersen's notion of manifestation can be seen as a semiotic morphism; give a simple example, and describe what should be preserved.
    5. (Optional) Use semiotics to explain why some features of scrollbars work well and others do not, expanding and making more precise the discussion given in class.
    6. (Optional) Use both classical and algebraic semiotics to explain why some things work and others do not in the "plumbing" representation of Figure 15.18, page 543, of Shneiderman (see the semiotic methodology in Section 7 of the class notes).
  8. Due 29 May:
    1. Explain how the display in Plate B4a of Shneiderman (after page 514) could be seen as a semiotic morphism. Do the same for Plate B5, and then explain why it is better than B4a (if it is).
    2. Describe in detail your actions in trying to answer three simple but non-trivial questions using a web browser; these questions should be similar to those discussed in class. Say whether your search breadth first, depth first, or neither, and whether it was adaptive. (A simple example would be to find the birth date of Galileo Galilei, by placing the keyword "Galileo" into a browser.)
    3. Pick 3 from the list of 50 oxymorons, and explain their oxymoronic meaning as a blend of semiotic morphisms for their two parts. Because these are jokes, they are also supposed to have at least one non-oxymoronic blend; both blends should be explained (if they exist).
    4. (Optional) Write the structure in the DTD for bibliographic entities in OBJ, and test run this code on some simple examples.
    5. (Optional) Write the other two blends described in the Formal Notation for Conceptual Blending in OBJ, and run the code in order to type check it.
    The OBJ3 Survival Guide may be useful for the OBJ problems. Source code for OBJ3 version 2.04, and compiled code for Sun workstations, can be obtained by ftp from ftp://www.cs.ucsd.edu/pub/fac/goguen. The latest (June 2000) open source release, OBJ3 version 2.06, cleaned up from version 2.04 (from 1992), engineered by Joseph Kiniry and Sula Ma, and built and supported by Joseph Kiniry; this runs under GCL 2.2.2. You can also get the BOBJ variant of OBJ from the BOBJ ftp site.
  9. Due 5 June:
    1. Write about one page using semiotics, especially morphisms, blends, and iconicity, to analyze some specific everyday object, such as a favorite coffee mug, chair, or table (see the semiotic methodology in Section 7 of the class notes).
    2. Write a short description of some major actants involved with XML (including potential users and actants in the standards process) and some of the most important relations among them. Draw a graph summarizing your description.
    3. Pick 3 cartoons from the comics section of a newspaper and explain for each how some conceptual space has been recontextualized by adding new information, and show how the resulting new meaning is a blend (give and fill in the most pertinent parts of the blend diagram).
    4. Write an outline of the most important points in this class, with an explaination of the relevance of each one to user interface design.

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Last modified: Tue Jun 11 17:35:45 PDT 2002