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Denotation and connotation in the human - computer interface: The 'Save as …' command

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This paper presents a semiotic technique as a means of exploring meaning and understanding in interface design and use. This is examined through a study of the interaction between the 'file' metaphor and 'save as' command metaphor. The behaviour of these (from a functional or computational basis) do not exactly match, or map onto, the meaning of the metaphor. We examine both the denotation of a term to the user, i.e. its literal meaning to that person, and the term's connotations, i.e. any other meanings associated with the term. We suggest that the technique applied is useful in predicting future problems with understanding the use of metaphor at the interface and with designing appropriate signification for human-computer interaction. Variation in connotation was expected but a more fundamental difference in denotation was also uncovered. Moreover, the results clearly demonstrate that consistency in the denotation of a term is critical in achieving a good user understanding of the command.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-01-01

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