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 in the discussion section. There will be homework due every week, starting second week.
  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 9 April.
    1. Select two interesting but quite different websites and criticize their design with respect to meeting their goals. (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.)
    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.
    3. Find at least two inconsistencies in the 1998 CSE 271 class website, at the design level - not spelling, syntax, etc.
  2. Due 16 April.
    1. Use the "Eight Golden Rules" (pages 74-75 of Shneiderman) as a basis for critiquing the websites that you discussed in questions 1 and 2 of last week's homework.
    2. Give an example showing why it is important for a website designer (or critic) to know the goals for a site.
    3. Explain how social issues and values come into your answer to question 1 above.
    4. (Optional) 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 (page 60) of Shneiderman, and then rewrite the paragraph without them. Draw a brief conclusion from this exercise.
  3. Due 23 April. The first three questions concern the Information Awareness Office website (note that the link takes you to just one page of that office, devoted to the Total Information Awareness program).
    1. Write a one paragraph statement of its goal;
    2. Write an interface guideline (capturing its current style); and
    3. Write a brief social impact statement for the site, following the checklist on pages 113-114 of Shneiderman.
    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. (Optional) Write a semiotic analysis of a small but non-trivial sign, such as the cover of the text by Shneiderman, 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 30 April.
    1. Make as many suggestions as you can for improving the Wireless Questionnaire, using material in Chapter 4 of Shneiderman and in the papers Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective and Techniques for Requirements Elicitation.
    2. Give two real examples of mitigated speech from your own everyday life; please give real examples, not imaginary examples.
    3. 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.
    4. (Optional) Write approximately one page comparing chapter 14 of Shneiderman with Communication and Collaboration from a CSCW Perspective by Mark Ackerman.
  5. Due 7 May. These are all optional problems, intended to help you review some of the more recent material in the course.
    1. 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.)
    2. 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).
    3. Do a heuristic evaluation (p.126 of Shneiderman) using the "Eight Golden Rules" (p.74-76) and the 5 display organization guidelines (p.80) for the DTUI website; note that this should include a consistency inspection (p.126).
    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. Use CSCW ideas to explain the phenomenon (see p.197 of Shneiderman) that users of computer games generally prefer a display of highest scores over computer generated real-time feedback during play.
    6. Describe in some detail (e.g., who, when, where, why) an example of recipient design that you actually observed in your own experience. (Note: this can be brief. Please give a real example, not an imaginary example.)
  6. Due 14 May.
    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. Describe the structure of the simple narrative in the webpage The Structure of Narrative with a parse tree based on the notation given there. Also give an intuitive description of the semiotic morphism that maps narratives to their Labov structures.
    3. The first version of the popup explanation windows for the semiotic zoo included all the same links as the exhibit pages themselves; however, I soon deleted them. Explain why that was a good idea - or why it wasn't, if you think it wasn't.
    4. 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.
  7. Due 21 May.
    1. Apply both classical and algebraic semiotics to the "plumbing" representation in Figure 15.18, page 543, of Shneiderman (see the semiotic methodology in Section 7 of the class notes). Say what aspects of this representation you think work, what aspects you think do not work, and explain why.
    2. 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.
    3. (Double credit) 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. You will need to use Internet Explorer version 5 for this assignment, since Netscape Navigator does not yet support XML. Also follow the other instructions that are given on the linked page.
    4. (Optional) Use semiotics to explain why some features of scrollbars work well and others do not, expanding the discussion given in class.
    5. (Optional) Give a careful discussion of the list of problems with video on p.491 of Shneiderman, paying attention to the fact that the list contains items of completely different character, for example, that some items have a social origin, whole others merely reflect short term limits of current technology. Explain why each item might be a problem.
  8. Due 28 May.
    1. 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 (see Shneiderman, p.575). Describe a case where this usual rule does not work.
    2. Write a paragraph explaining how Andersen's notion of manifestation can be seen as a semiotic morphism; give a simple example, and describe what should be preserved.
    3. Explain how the display in Plate B4a of Shneiderman (after page 514) could be seen as a semiotic morphism. Do the same for Plate B5, and then explain why it is better than B4a (if it is).
    4. Describe in detail your actions in trying to answer three simple but non-trivial questions using a web browser. Say whether your search breadth first, depth first, or neither, and whether it was adaptive. (An example would be to find the birth date of Galileo Galilei, by first placing the keyword "Galileo" into a browser.)
    5. 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). Note: A correction to the reading assigment from this problem was posted late, so you may hand in this problem one week late if you wish.
    6. (Very Optional) Write the structure in the DTD for bibliographic entities in OBJ, and test run this code on some simple examples.
    7. (Very 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 last two "very 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. 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 BOBJ variant of OBJ from the BOBJ ftp site; it is in pure Java.
  9. Due 4 June.
    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 of the class notes); a good answer could range in size from a longish paragraph to a full page.
    2. 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.
    3. Pick 3 cartoons from the comics section of a 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).
    4. 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: Thu Sep 25 14:57:21 PDT 2003