CSE 271: User Interface Design: Social and
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
- It should be 10 to 30 pages long, and is due at the last meeting of
- The paper should adhere to the usual standards of good academic
writing; in particular, it should have a good bibliography, where each item
contains the usual scholarly information (author, publisher, year, etc.) -
do not just give a list of URLs (yes, webpages have titles, dates, and even
authors). The purpose is to help future readers find the references that
you used (note that URLs are notoriously unstable).
- You should provide proper citations for any theories, methods, and not
generally known facts that you use. You must also clearly indicate the
source of any material that you quote; you must not just copy and
edit material from the web (or any other source).
- Section and subsection titles should be used; use footnotes if they
help; be sure to number your pages.
- Give me a hardcopy and email me an ecopy as an attachment; include
your email address on the hardcopy.
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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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
- Cynthia Bailey Lee did a project on political cartoons for
the 2003 version of this class.
- 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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© 2000 - 2005 Joseph Goguen, all rights
Last modified: Thu Jun 16 11:34:18 PDT 2005