CSE 171: User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues
Notes for the Fifth Meeting
Notes on Chapter 5 of Shneiderman

Chapter 5 is again a bit too vague to be really useful, but I assume everyone is already familiar at least with BNF and with Unix command specification notation, and most of you are probably familiar with transition diagrams. Statecharts are a significant improvement on standard transition diagrams, but dont really solve, or even address, the hard parts of UID. To me, UAN looks rather ugly. I am not even convinced that specifications are necessary for GUIs; for example, JavaScript is nearly terse enough to be considered a specification language, and it is executable. As Shneiderman says, "The World Wide Web is such a powerful force that web-oriented tools are likely to have the brightest future" (p.168); in his inimitable deadpan style, he also says

The rapid pace of change on the Internet is stimulated by the easy sharing of code and the capacity to build quickly on top of the work of other programmers. The frenzy is sometimes alarming, but is usually irresistible.
Nevertheless, his book seems to have successfully resisted the internet revolution, since it contains very little on HTML, web design, browser design, etc.

Interface building tools are extremely important, and again webcentric tools seem most important. To me, JavaScript looks superior to the other tools discussed in chapter 5, though Tcl/Tk is very nice, and has recently been improved. XML seems a promising solution for many situations, but it is not going to live up to some of the hype I have seen about "putting semantics onto the web" and "making the web one giant universal database."

The experiment reported on p.179 is a good lesson in consistency. The "Researcher's Agenda" on p.181 is worth reading over several times; the UCSD Tatami project is trying to deal with several of the issues mentioned here; however, we do not consider metrics a promising research area.

One important conclusion is that there are no good methods for specifying the interactions mediated by GUIs. One reason is that the styles and supporting technologies used are evolving much faster than the theories. Another reason is the inherent creativity and complexity of graphical media. It seems that, according to Shneiderman's experience, the single most useful thing to do is post copies of all important screens on a large wall!


Notes for Class Discussion

Results about the structure of interaction from the area of ethnomethodology known as conversation analysis have interesting applications to video conferencing and similar media. Concepts of particular interest include negotiation for turn taking, interrupts, repair, and discourse unit boundaries. One important point is that a long enough delay (perhaps as little as .1 second) can cause large disruptions, due to our expectations about the meaning of gaps in coversation. Another point is that separate video images of individuals or groups, especially when there are many of them, can frustrate our expectations about co-presence, such as our expectation that we and other participants have the ability to monitor attention, and to conduct effective recipient design.

I was recently at a meeting where the so called "digital divide" was discussed, and was surprised at some of the opinions expressed. One person seemed to think that just throwing technology at the problem could solve it, or at least, make a major contribution, noting that very large amounts of grant money are available for this. Another wanted an extensive survey of views of people currently without computer access on what they wanted. (But another participant recalled a recent large survey of this kind done in Chicago, which found that the top two items for what poor people there wanted were: (1) some way to ensure that their trash would be picked up; and (2) inexpensive child care. Alas, these are not the kinds of thing that the internet is good at.) Several wanted a detailed survey of organizations involved with computer literacy, and of facilities currently available; in fact, this already exists for San Diego. Others wanted to emphasize training through grass roots community organizations.

Only one person seemed to realize that the web and internet in their current form are not suitable for many people who could certainly use the information and services that exist. This person cited a study done in Birmingham about a project to provide information about concer over the web. It seems that many people were intimidated or confused by the way all this information was organized and the language and social conventions that were used, and as a result jumped to sometimes unwarranted conclusions, such as that they had learned for sure that they were going to die of cancer soon.

Only one participant seemed to realize that information and services on the web in their current form are not suitable for many people who could certainly benefit from them if they could access them. This person cited a study done in Birmingham about a project to provide information about concer over the web. It seems that many people were intimidated or confused by the way all this information was organized and the language and social conventions that were used, and as a result jumped to sometimes unwarranted conclusions, such as that they had learned for sure that they were going to die of cancer soon.

I would like you to notice that there are many interesting instances of adjacency pairs in computer interfaces. For example, in UNIX when we say we want to erase a file, if we have properly redefined the "rm" command, then we will be asked if we really want to remove each file, and must respond in order for the action to be accomplished. Logging in and logging out also provide examples of adjacency pairs. However, there are many examples of such pairs in graphical systems where the design is poor; for example, the user may be forced to acknowledge the occurrence of events that are basically trivial by clicking on "OK," or may be annoyed by popup windows that contain distracting or even irrelevant information. The careful empirical studies in ethnomethodological conversation analysis of how adjacency pairs are organized in ordinary conversation could provide designers with much many useful examples and inspiration for how to do better.

The lecture for this week featured a guided tour of the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo, with additional pictures over those on the zoo site, and additional discussion relating semiotic morphisms and sign spaces to the ideas of Peirce and Saussure.


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17 February 2000.