CSE 171 Homepage
User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues
Spring 2003


The final exam was Friday, 13 June, from 7 to 10 pm, in Petersen 104; unfortunately, it was not possible to change the schedule.

A glossary of terms used in classical and algebraic semiotics is available to help you review; also, Section 10 of the class notes has been much revised, again to help you review.

There was a review session at 11 am on Friday, 13 June, Petersen 104.

There is a gradesource account for this class; it supports anonymous reporting of grades, and also gives a variety of statistics. Dana Dahlstrom can give you your "secret number."

We have had several cases where answers to homework problems have had strongly overlapping content. In the future, a grade of zero will be assigned for such answers, and there will be more drastic consequences for repeat offenders. You are allowed to 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.

Please use the discussion board, at http://discus4.ucsd.edu/messages/2284/2284.html, for all questions that are not strictly personal, so that all students may benefit equally from the answers. The TA will post answers for everyone to read, consulting with the professor as needed.

The midterm was on Wednesday, 7 May; you may also wish to look at exams from previous versions of this class, though of course these will differ from this year's.

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

The class notes do not cover everything you need to know for this course, and their emphasis may 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, and are at least as important as the text. In addition, there will be handouts, diagrams on the board, and possibly guest appearances at lectures. But this does NOT mean that you can ignore what is in the text; you are responsible for all assigned readings. In short, all of lectures, notes, text, and other readings are absolutely necessary.


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 of 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: This course will examine a number of case studies, one of which is a system built at UCSD CSE to support distributed cooperative software engineering over the web, which be seen at /groups/tatami/kumo/exs/. Some 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.


CSE 20, 21, 100 or equivalent, and the ability to comprehend texts in sociology, cognitive science, and linguistics.

Monday, Wednesday, 5:00 to 6:20 pm, in Petersen 104
Section ID 465858, Section A00
The discussion section is Wednesday, 11:00 - 11:50, in Solis 111
My office hours begin at 6:20 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday.
The class TA is Dana Dahlstrom, with office hours 10:00 to 11:00 Tuesday and 11:00 to 12:00 Thursday, in APM 3349D.

The only required book is Shneiderman; 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.

Recommended Books

All of these (except the first, which is still unpublished) should be on reserve at the Science and Engineering Library. 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 two 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, 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%.

  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.
Here are links to the midterm, to the quizes and exams for previous versions of this class, and to last year's homepage.

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 will be some 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: Fri Jun 13 22:30:39 PDT 2003