CSE 271: User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues

You may do a design project, or do some theoretical research, but in either case you must hand in a paper reporting your results, methods, etc.

Requirements for the paper:

Your topic can be tailored to your interests and talents, but please note that because this course is about user interface design, not implementation, it is not appropriate to undertake a large implementation project; most of your effort should go into user interface design and/or evaluation issues. And of course, the content of your paper must relate to the themes of this particular course, which has an emphasis on semiotic and social aspects of user interface design. Your project grade will be strongly influenced by how well it applies concepts from this particular course. You are encouraged to consult me while working on the project. I can function as a Senior Design Consultant or Project Advisor on the team; this has the potential to greatly improve the project and your grade.

You may wish to form a team in order to make a larger contribution, facilitate learning, and have an experience more like the (so called) real world. Because most of your grade will depend on your paper, it should report a substantial amount of work and be of a high quality; if N people work together, the result should be N times as substantial as what a single author could accomplish. You must disclose if your paper overlaps, or will overlap, with anything submitted to any other course, and you must disclose any other persons who were significantly involved in its production. 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.

In fourth week, you must submit a written proposal, which includes the personnel and an outline of the project's content; you must obtain my permission before you begin working on the project. In general, I will provide a lot of feedback on your proposal, so be sure to put your email address on your proposal. You are encouraged to contact me with any questions and problems that arise; I want everyone to have an excellent experience in which as much as possible is learned.

If your project involves a semiotic analysis of an existing object, the following guidelines should be followed (to the extent that they are applicable): (1) use algebraic semiotics (especially semiotic systems and semiotic morphisms) to see what the designers considered most important. (2) Use this to infer some values of designers and users, which can help you infer the goals of the site (see The Ethics of Databases, and class note discussions). You can see the structure of a page by examining its source code, though the constructors used there (many of the most important of which are likely to be tables) may not correspond directly to semiotic constructors. (3) If possible, examine three or more sites of a similar nature, as an aid to inferring the structure, levels, and priorities of the source space. (4) Formalize the semiotic spaces that you use to the extent that it is useful, but include at least the top two levels; do not confuse subsorts with sublevels. (5) Pierce's classification of signs as symbols, indexes and icons may also be useful. (6) See also the semiotic methodology in Section 5 of the class notes.

The following are some suggestions for topics:

  1. There is now a page listing possible real world Community Service Projects that have been suggested to me. Work in a group on a real project is highly recommended as a way to experience the reality of what this class studies abstractly, especially the social and semiotic aspects of design. If you do such a project, I will help the team with design decisions and implementation problems (note that this role is not that of a user, informant, stakeholder, or client).
  2. Analyze the interface (i.e., what users see) of some popular website, like CNN or Yahoo. Use semiotic systems and semiotic morphisms to see what the designers considered most important, and infer some major values.
  3. Use algebraic semiotics to describe and understand some interesting representation. The more narrow the representation that you choose, the more precise you should be in using the mathematical theory. (You can use the discussion of scrollbars given in class as a model of what such a paper could accomplish.)
  4. Study clocks and/or dates and/or calendars, exploring the tradeoffs involved in enough detail to explain why certain conventions are used in certain contexts. One rather easy example is the military time convention, but you should not confine your attention to the easiest examples. For example, you might consider things like the 24 time zones, and summer time, leap year, the Gregorian Calendar and the date of Easter, the Mayan calendar, etc., describing the appropriate semiotic spaces and semiotic morphisms.
  5. Design, build, and test a website the goal of which is to explain algebraic semantics and OBJ notation; the website should include some graphics. You should use semiotics, especially semiotic morphisms, to justify your design decisions. This project will be evaluated in part by how useful it would be to future students of CSE 271. It is appropriate for a team of 2 students. You can use the Tutorial on Semiotics by Dana Dahlstrom and Vinu Somayaji as a template.
  6. Study the user interface of some popular system like ICQ or a web search engine; use semiotic morphisms to show that various design choices are suboptimal, and to suggest some improvements; you may also explain why some design choices are good.
  7. Give a careful discussion of several different bibliographic citation styles (e.g., by examining several books, papers and journal, or by examining LaTeX bibliographic style files); give precise descriptions of these style as sign systems, with attention to their social context.
  8. Study representation issues in detail for some other interesting kind of information, such as basketball scores, baseball scores, or TV listings. Since these are situated abstract data types, you should read about that topic in Requirements Engineering as the Reconciliation of Technical and Social Issues (pages 165-199 of Requirements Engineering: Social and Technical Issues, edited with Marina Jirotka, Academic Press, 1994). Use semiotic systems and semiotic morphisms to see what is considered most important, and infer some major values.
  9. Use algebraic semiotics to study some metaphors and blends in detail; you may use any text you like, but probably advertisements, cartoons, etc. will be easier to deal with than poetry. Covers of The Economist magazine often feature clever visual blends; a detailed analysis of several of these (with the math) could be a good project.
  10. Apply classical and algebraic semiotics to the user interface of the current Kumo prototype or the websites that it produces, and compare various design choices with those of previous version; use the quality criteria to explain why the new design is an improvement (or why it isn't).
  11. Use algebraic semiotics to prove that some representation is better than some other representation for the same sign system. The more narrow the source domain, the more precise you should be in using the mathematical theory. Use the quality criteria given in the paper An Introduction to Algebraic Semiotics, with Applications to User Interface Design. You could look at the design of two books on the same subject (such as Java programming), one of which is pretty good and the other of which is not so good (from a design point of view, not content). Or you could look at the signs to help visitors around UCSD and around some other campus (it need not be a university, maybe a hospital or some industrial complex). You need not formalize everything, but the semiotic systems and morphisms that you analyze should not be trivial.
  12. Design and prototype a simple system using some of the principles in Andersen's Multimedia phase spaces paper. This could, for example, be an interactive version of a simple fairy tale, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. A 2 or 3 person team would be appropriate for this.

The following lists some of the high quality projects that have been done for this class in the past:
  1. In 2004, Henry Mitchell and Breese Stevens built a website for the San Diego Jazz Party, which once a year organizes a weekend jazz festival, and donates profits to support music in the San Diego school system.
  2. An earlier real world project done for this class, and extended to become a Master's thesis, is a website for a network of San Diego animal shelters, by Abigail Gray; her thesis documents the use of algebraic semiotics for many design decisions for the website.
  3. Cynthia Bailey Lee did a project on political cartoons for the 2003 version of this class.
  4. Dana Dahlstrom and Vinu Somayaji wrote the Tutorial on Semiotics for the 2004 version of CSE 271; it is now used in both CSE 171 and 271.

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Last modified: Thu Jun 16 11:34:18 PDT 2005