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User-Interface as an Expression of Political Ideology

Key words: User-interface, ideology, values, ethics, manipulation, persuasion, rhetorics.


The user interface of interactive systems is the meeting point of people with
interactive communication technology (ICT). As a human product it forms a part of culture that determines us, often without our full realization. The user-interface (UI) is constructed according to a set of values of the designer and other stakeholders in the production process. Their values and goals are implicitly encoded in the interface and the documentation but can
be in conflict with the values of the user. This means the UI directs the user interaction in a way that should follow user’s intentions, but is often more subject to the intent of the designer or simply by what the system allows for by itself. This is when both the intentional and unintentional manipulation with the user starts, because he or she is presented with choices or even goals, that are inappropriate for his or her intent.

For the purpose of unmasking and decoding the inner workings of the UI we can apply semiotics with the emphasis on pragmatics, as defined by Charles Morris (1970). Semiotics is in this regard a study of semiosis, which has a syntactic, semantic and pragmatic dimension.

Syntactics is “the study of the syntactical relations of signs to one another in abstraction from the relations of signs to objects or to interpreters…” (Morris, 1970: 13) In this dimension we deal with the grammar constituting relations between the perceivable elements, or sign vehicles.

Semantics, on the other hand, “deals with the relation of signs to their designata and so to the objects which they may or do denote.” (Morris, 1970: 21) This dimension is devoted to the relation between vehiculae and the object, content, action, or “meaning” the UI represents and enables.

Pragmatics “deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena which occur in the functioning of signs.” (Morris, 1970: 30). This most complex dimension focuses on how we use or interpret the vehiculaobject relation, i.e., what is the sign‘s purpose? The pragmatic dimension governs how signs are used, or understood in their conventional and symbolic form. Each and every computer-based UI is a result of diverse influences.

Each and every computer-based UI is a result of diverse influences during the design process.

— Jan Brejcha, User-Interface as an Expression of Political Ideology. Magal, Solik, eds. Médiá a politika – Megatrendy a médiá. Trnava: Fakulta masmediálnej komunikácie Univerzity sv. Cyrila a Metoda v Trnave, 2011, p. 245-261.


For example?

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