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Design and Evaluation of Web Interface Signs to Improve Web Usability: A Semiotic Framework

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, Design and Evaluation of Web Interface Signs to Improve Web Usability: A Semiotic Framework. TUCS Dissertations 184. Åbo Akademi University, 2014.


Technological innovations, the development of the internet, and globalization have increased the number and complexity of web applications. As a result, keeping web user interfaces understandable and usable (in terms of ease-of-use, effectiveness, and satisfaction) is a challenge. As part of this, designing user-intuitive interface signs (i.e., the small elements of web user interface, e.g., navigational link, command buttons, icons, small images, thumbnails, etc.) is an issue for designers. Interface signs are key elements of web user interfaces because ‘interface signs’ act as a communication artefact to convey web content and system functionality, and because users interact with systems by means of interface signs. In the light of the above, applying semiotic (i.e., the study of signs) concepts on web interface signs will contribute to discover new and important perspectives on web user interface design and evaluation.

The thesis mainly focuses on web interface signs and uses the theory of semiotic as a background theory. The underlying aim of this thesis is to provide valuable insights to design and evaluate web user interfaces from a semiotic perspective in order to improve overall web usability. The fundamental research question is formulated as What do practitioners and researchers need to be aware of from a semiotic perspective when designing or evaluating web user interfaces to improve web usability?

From a methodological perspective, the thesis follows a design science research (DSR) approach. A systematic literature review and six empirical studies are carried out in this thesis. The empirical studies are carried out with a total of 74 participants in Finland. The steps of a design science research process are followed while the studies were designed and conducted; that includes (a) problem identification and motivation, (b) definition of objectives of a solution, (c) design and development, (d) demonstration, (e) evaluation, and (f) communication. The data is collected using observations in a usability testing lab, by analytical (expert) inspection, with questionnaires, and in structured and semi-structured interviews. User behaviour analysis, qualitative analysis and statistics are used to analyze the study data.

The results are summarized as follows and have lead to the following contributions. Firstly, the results present the current status of semiotic research in UI design and evaluation and highlight the importance of considering semiotic concepts in UI design and evaluation. Secondly, the thesis explores interface sign ontologies (i.e., sets of concepts and skills that a user should know to interpret the meaning of interface signs) by providing a set of ontologies used to interpret the meaning of interface signs, and by providing a set of features related to ontology mapping in interpreting the meaning of interface signs. Thirdly, the thesis explores the value of integrating semiotic concepts in usability testing. Fourthly, the thesis proposes a semiotic framework (Semiotic Interface sign Design and Evaluation – SIDE) for interface sign design and evaluation in order to make them intuitive for end users and to improve web usability. The SIDE framework includes a set of determinants and attributes of user-intuitive interface signs, and a set of semiotic heuristics to design and evaluate interface signs. Finally, the thesis assesses (a) the quality of the SIDE framework in terms of performance metrics (e.g., thoroughness, validity, effectiveness, reliability, etc.) and (b) the contributions of the SIDE framework from the evaluators’ perspective.

BibTeX entry:

  title = {Design and Evaluation of Web Interface Signs to Improve Web Usability: A Semiotic Framework},
  author = {Islam, Muhammad Nazrul},
  number = {184},
  series = {TUCS Dissertations},
  school = {Åbo Akademi University},
  year = {2014},
  keywords = {Human-Computer Interaction, User Interface Design, Usability Evaluation, Computer Semiotics, },

Belongs to TUCS Research Unit(s): Institute for Advanced Management Systems Research (IAMSR)

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