CSE 271 Homepage
User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues
Spring 2005

If you are a visitor to this site, the best way to get an overview of the course, after reading the synopsis, is to browse the readings page and follow links that interest you.

The class notes do not cover everything you need to know for this course, and their emphasis may not reflect the importance of material. The notes will not serve as a substitute for the lectures or the assigned readings. Moreover, the lectures and readings go well beyond the text, and are more important than the text, which actually could be used in a lower division course, although its content is very important for practical applications. There will be handouts, diagrams on the board, stories, examples, and (probably) guest appearances at lectures. In short, all of assigned readings, lectures, notes, and text are absolutely necessary.

A wiki is available for this class (and also CSE 171) to use, at http://cse-gsa.ucsd.edu/wiki/UserInterfaceDesign; it includes material from Spring 2003 that is now out of date, but please feel free to improve it.

You are allowed to talk with other students about how to approach homework problems, but you are not allowed to work together on solutions. Please read the Integrity of Scholarship Agreement site and the offical UCSD 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.

An evolving draft introduction of Value-Driven Design, with Algebraic Semiotics, by Joseph Goguen and Fox Harrel, to eventually be a text for this course, is online for browsing and comment; a rough draft outline of the whole book is also online for browsing and comment. See also the excellent summary of the work of Batya Friedman and others in the short encyclopedia article Value Sensitive Design, the Value Sensitive Design Lab at the University of Washington, and my recent letter to her.


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 topics list 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.
This course will focus on the last two levels, especially the last, and in this regard will consider (at least) the following: We will examine several 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/. 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. Algebraic semiotics will be developed as a fundamental tool for addressing such issues. We will also look at some other websites designed by UCSD students for this course.
Tuesday, Thursday, 17:00 am to 18:20, in Center 203
Section ID 527968, Section A00
There is no TA for this class, and hence no discussion section
My office hours begin 17:00 on Wednesdays.


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 these should be on reserve at the Science and Engineering Library. The first is a prominent text for undergraduate courses in this area. 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 remainder address more specialized domains.

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 your project.
Additional Information

Your grade will depend primarily on the quality of your project, tempered by an assessment of your homework and your class participation. Your project should reflect your familiarity with the readings, lectures and class notes, especially the material that is unique to this class; see the projects information page. Homework assignments should be handed in, but will not be formally graded; see me after class if you want feedback. I will try to arrange a session for voluntary presentations of projects if there is sufficient interest.

  1. Reading assignments.
  2. Class notes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, A.
  3. Homework assignments.
  4. Information on projects.
  5. The CSE 171 homepage has links to quizzes and exams from various versions of that class. Also, here is a link to the 2003 version of CSE 271.

Other Resources
Warning: This is 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 a little programming, and some mathematics will be needed. Insofar as possible, the course will be conducted as a seminar; in any case, topics will be discussed 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. This course is oriented towards concepts, not programming, and many homework questions will have an essay character. There is an emphasis on social and semiotic aspects of design.

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Last modified: Wed Mar 29 07:33:19 PST 2006