CSE 271: User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues
Your paper should be 10 to 30 pages long, and is due at the last meeting of this class. You are expected to adhere to the usual standards of good academic writing; in particular, you 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. You should provide proper citations for any theories, methods, or not generally known facts that you use. Section and subsection titles should be used; use footnotes if they help; be sure to number your pages.

The topic of your paper can be tailored to your interests and talents, but please note that because this course is about user interface design, not about 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 a particular emphasis on social issues and on semiotics. Those who choose a project applying semiotics should take account of the semiotic methodology in Section 7 of the class notes.

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 represent a substantial amount of work and be of a high quality; moreover, if N people work together, the result should be N times as substantial as a single author paper. 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.

The following are some suggestions for topics:

  1. Analyze the interface of some popular website, like CNN or Yahoo, using classical and algebraic semiotcs (especially sign systems and semiotic morphisms) to see what the designers considered most important and how the display reflects that; from this, you may infer some values of the designers and users. (See The Ethics of Databases, and Section 10 of the class notes.) You can get a sense of the structure of (for example) the homepage of such a site (which should serve as a summary of its content) by examining the HTML of that page, though the constructors used there (many of the most important of which are likely to be tables) may not correspond directly to semiotic constructors.
  2. 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, but of course you should provide more detail.)
  3. Study times and/or dates and try to discover 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, maybe even leap year, the Gregorian Calendar, the date of Easter, etc.
  4. Design, build, and test a website the goal of which is to explain classical semiotics and algebraic semiotics; you should provide some graphics, maybe some dynamic applets; you should use semiotics, especially semiotic morphisms, to justify your design decisions, and include this in the website. (For example, it would be helpful to provide some pictures for the webpage Formal Notation for Conceptual Blending.)
  5. 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 argue that some design choices are good.
  6. 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.
  7. Study representation issues in detail for some other interesting kind of information, such as sports scores, or TV listings.
  8. Discuss problems of applying computer technology to education from a CSCW perspective; do a thorough literature search; if possible, do a case study; at least, be sure to cite and discuss some recent case studies. Use Actor-Network Theory.
  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, etc. 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.
  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.
You must submit a written proposal, which includes the personnel and an outline of the project's content, by fourth week, and obtain my permission before you proceed working on the project; in general, I will provide you with a lot of feedback. An important criterion in evaluating projects will be how well they use material from the course.
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Last modified: Sun Jun 10 11:15:19 PDT 2001