CSE 171: User Interface Design: Social and Technical Issues


  1. Your homework is due in class, but you may hand it in earlier in the same day. There will be homework due every week, starting second week. Graded homework will be returned in the section.
  2. Please put your email address on your homework, so the TA can contact you in case of questions.
  3. Problems should be considered tentative until about one week before they are due.
  4. Grades will be strongly influenced by your ability to use the concepts that (we hope!) you are learning in class. Be sure to answer the question that is asked.
  5. Every problem you hand in will be checked, but only a random subset will be graded (chosen to be maximally helpful to you, subject to our resource limitations); you will get up to 3 points for a problem that is handed in and checked, and up to 10 points for one that is graded. Optional homework problems will be worth (up to) 2 points extra credit. Of course, the total for homework will be weighted appropriately when combined with the midterm and final.
  6. Please hand in homework in paper hardcopy form; do not email me or the TA an attachment! Computer printed paper is much preferred; if your handwriting is too hard to read, you will lose points. You may also lose points if your solution is too difficult to understand, whether due to English or technical problems.
  7. Please include the assignment set number and problem number for each question; also be sure to include your name, and the due date. If there are multiple pages, you should staple them; since there are many students, loose pages are likely to be lost, and you will not get credit.
  8. For problems that require use of a computer, always hand in both your input and your output as part of your solution.
  9. Please do not ask the TA, grader, or professor for help doing your homework; this is not fair to other students. Of course, it is encouraged to ask questions about the content of the course! And you can also ask about bugs in the homework problems (if there are any).

  1. Due 5 April.
    1. Select two interesting but quite different websites and criticize their design with respect to meeting their goals and values. (Some interesting websites are linked from my "What's Cool" page, e.g., that of Victoria Vesna, or items available by clicking on the walls of Timothy Leary's house-like homepage.) Note that this is a two step process: first infer the goals and values from the context, and then criticize the design.
    2. Discuss Robert Morey's interactive applet proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. In particular, explain why letting the user size the triangle is a good idea. What about the pink smiley faces?
    3. Find at least two inconsistencies in the 1998 CSE 271 class website, at the design level - not spelling, syntax, etc.
    4. Do problem 17 of Chapter 1, page 14 of the text.
  2. Due 12 April.
    1. Do problem 3 of Chapter 2, page 32 of the text.
    2. Do problem 4 of Chapter 2, page 32 of the text; also give a brief intuitive description of the source semiotic space for each, i.e., of what is being represented.
    3. Do problem 10 of Chapter 2, page 34 of the text.
  3. Due 19 April.
    1. Problem 14 of Chapter 3 (page 56) of the text.
    2. Problem 9 of Chapter 3 (page 55) of the text.
    3. Problem 3 of Chapter 3 (page 54) of the text.
    4. Give an example of a (in Peircian terminology) representamen that has two different objects, and explain how the interpretant differs in the two cases.
    5. Find at least three syntactic errors in formal code in the first 10 pages of the XHTML appendix of the text.
    6. (Optional) Write a semiotic analysis of a small but non-trivial sign, such as the cover of our text, or the original Total Information Awareness Logo, or Minard's map of Napoleon's 1812 defeat. Pay particular attention to colors, sizes, backgrounds, fonts, etc. of any text, and to the structuring of this single complex sign as a composition of smaller signs. Point out any instances of iconicity and indexicality. (You might also find it interesting to analyze the DARPA logo.)
  4. Due 26 April.
    1. The ordering of items in the readings and homework pages of the Winter 2000 version of this course was reverse chronological. Use semiotic morphisms (in an informal way) to explain why that was not a good idea - or why it was, if you think it was. Hint: See the first exhibit in the semiotic zoo.
    2. Check out Google's answer service, including the homepage, FAQ, Terms of Service, and some sample questions and answers. Relate this to issues about reward discussed in Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective by Mark Ackerman.
    3. Describe in some detail (e.g., who, when, where, why) two examples of recipient design that you actually observed in your own experience. (Note: this can be brief. Please give real examples, not imaginary examples.)
    4. Problem 4 of Chapter 4 (page 71) of the text.
    5. Problem 11 of Chapter 5 (page 97) of the text.
    6. In linguistics, mitigation is defined to be any use of language that has the effect of decreasing the impact of a sentence. One important class of mitigation devices are hedges, which are adjectives and/or adverbs that decrease the impact of a noun or verb. Some examples are "sort of", "sometimes", "possibly", "often", "maybe" and "perhaps". Some other mitigation devices are syntactic, such as placing the main content in a subordinate clause. List as many instances of mitigation as you can find in the first paragraph of Section 2.2.5 of Shneiderman (page 60), and then rewrite the paragraph without them. Draw a brief conclusion from this exercise.
    7. (Optional) Give two real examples of mitigated speech from your own everyday life; give real examples, not imaginary examples.
  5. Due 3 May.
    1. Make as many suggestions as you can for improving the Wireless Questionnaire, using material in the papers Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective and Techniques for Requirements Elicitation.
    2. Give two examples of adjacency pairs (in the technical sense!) that you actually observed in ordinary conversation, explain why they are examples, and describe the context in which they occurred. (Hint: See section 6.2.1 of Techniques for Requirements Elicitation. Your answer could be rather brief. Please give real examples, not imaginary examples.)
    3. Apply the notion of adjacency pair to the Windows logout procedure (and say which specific version of Windows you are considering, NT, XP, 2000, or whatever).
    4. Explain in some detail how a scrollbar is a semiotic morphism: Say what is preserved, and what is not. Explain why. Also, consider also whether scrollbars should be placed on the right or left of a window. (Note: you should use formalization to the extent that it is helpful.)
    5. Describe in some detail how concepts from algebraic semiotics clarify the Principle of Contrast in chapter 5 of our text.
  6. Due 10 May.
    On 5 May, the CSE network connection to my computer did not work well, and I was unable to post the homework; therefore, you may hand it in ast last as 17 May if you wish.
    1. Give an example of a noticeable absence (in its technical sense!) that you actually observed in natural social interaction, explain why it is an example, and describe the context in which it appeared. (Note: this can be brief. Please give a real example, not an imaginary example.)
    2. The first version of the popup explanation windows for the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo included all the same links as the exhibit pages themselves; however, I soon deleted them. Explain why this change was a good idea - or why it wasn't, if you think it wasn't.
    3. Give a new item that could be used as an exhibit in the UC San Diego Semiotic Zoo; be sure to provide a careful explanation for your exhibit, using semiotic morphisms.
    4. Do problem 11 of Chapter 5 (page 97) in our text, using the notions of level, priority and semiotic morphism.
    5. Do problem 17 of Chapter 6 (page 121) in our text, using the notions of level, priority and semiotic morphism.
  7. Due 17 May.
    1. Go to Geisel Library at some fairly busy time; spend at least 30 minutes observing social interactions that occur there; take notes; then re-read Providing Social Interaction in the Digital Library and Answer Garden 2: Merging Organizational Memory with Collaborative Help by Mark Ackerman; and finally for your assignment, describe in some detail at least 3 (actually observed) interactions that could not easily be supported by a computer mediated system, and say why they would be difficult to support.
    2. Describe the structure of the simple narrative in the webpage The Structure of Narrative with a parse tree based on the grammar given there. Also give an intuitive description of the semiotic morphism that maps narratives to their Labov structures.
    3. Some pages of the 1998 CSE 271 website used "<hr>" to separate links at the bottom of the page, but now "<br>" is used instead (but not before the first link or after the last). Use semiotic morphisms to explain why that is a good idea - or why it isn't, if you think it isn't.
    4. Use semiotic morphisms to explain why it is usually better to present a set of weblinks as a broad list rather than as a tree with non-trivial index layering. Describe a case where this usual rule does not work.
    5. (Optional) Do the same as in problem 2 for the story in the Darwin Award Nomination.
    6. (Optional) Modify the code in this link as described there; hand in printed copies of your XML source, your XSL source, your DTD source, and the display that is produced; follow the other instructions given on the linked page. Warning: Old browsers may not support XML.
  8. Due 26 May.
    Because there is a lot of reading this week, the homework is due on Thursday instead of Tuesday.
    1. Use semiotics, especially morphisms, blends, and iconicity, to analyze some specific everyday object, such as a favorite coffee mug, chair, or table (see the semiotic methodology in Section 7.4 of the class notes); a good answer could range in size from a longish paragraph to a full page. Include a photo or drawing of the object.
    2. Describe in detail your actions in trying to answer three simple but non-trivial questions using a web browser. Say whether your search is breadth first, depth first, or neither. (An example would be to find the birth date of Galileo Galilei, by first placing the keyword "Galileo" into a browser.)
    3. Write a short description of some major actants involved with XML (including potential users and actants in the standards process) and some of the most important relations among them. Draw a graph summarizing your description.
    4. Do problem 4 of Chapter 8 (page 148) in our text.
    5. (Optional) Write the structure in the DTD for bibliographic entities in OBJ, and test run this code on some simple examples.
    6. (Optional) Write the other two blends described in the Formal Notation for Conceptual Blending in OBJ, and run the code in order to type check it.
    The optional problems are not difficult, but they do require that you know some OBJ, which may be difficult to learn. The OBJ3 Survival Guide may be useful if you are not familiar with OBJ. Source code for OBJ3 version 2.04, and compiled code for Sun workstations, can be obtained by ftp from ftp://www.cs.ucsd.edu/pub/fac/goguen. The latest (June 2000) open source release, OBJ3 version 2.06 or later, cleaned up from version 2.04 (from 1992), engineered by Joseph Kiniry and Sula Ma, and built and supported by Joseph Kiniry; this runs under GCL 2.2.2. You can also get the more recent BOBJ variant of OBJ from the BOBJ ftp site; it is in pure Java, and is upward compatible with OBJ3.
  9. Due 2 June.
    1. Write a paragraph explaining how Andersen's notion of manifestation can be seen as a semiotic morphism; give a simple example, describe what should be preserved, and say why it should be preserved.
    2. Pick 3 cartoons from the comics section of this week's newspaper, and explain for each how some conceptual space has been recontextualized by adding new information, and show how the resulting new meaning is a blend (give and fill in the most pertinent parts of the blend diagram). Include a copy of the cartoons with your answer.
    3. Pick 3 from the list of 50 oxymorons, and explain their oxymoronic meaning as a blend of semiotic morphisms for their two parts. Because these are jokes, they are also supposed to have at least one non-oxymoronic blend; both blends should be explained (if they exist).
    4. Do problem 17 of Chapter 9 (page 169) in our text.
    5. Write an outline of the most important points in this class, with an explaination of the relevance of each one to user interface design.

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Last modified: Sun May 22 10:02:16 PDT 2005