Is the syntagmatic behavior on which tasks are modeled problematic?

I just had a question about something that was mentioned briefly in the very last lecture we had covering semiotics.  We were talking about how syntagms imply time as a factor and rules in a sequence and gave the example that certain tasks are structured in a sequence, online shopping for example.  So, tasks are completed in a sequence and we stated that in general this sequence is usually modeled on the behavior of an expert.  But is this inherently problematic, maybe not always but at least sometimes?  If we are designing “something” for people who will be using our “something” who are not considered experts, then it seems misleading to be using a model based on the behavior of those who are experts.  Can we then also argue that this is then not even necessarily human-centered as we are viewing the non-experts as cogs fitting in the system of interaction between our “something” and our (expert) users instead of primarily focusing on and fully understanding our (non-expert) users?


  1. mingxian

    I was thinking about shopping experience last night, (just for fun, and sometimes when I could not fall asleep, I do this kind of brain exercise), maybe it is very directly related with your post, sorry about this.

    For traditional shopping, the store “designers” promote their business by design some routes or certain strategies. For example, milk was always put the another end of the store with the door or cashier desk, because they know much people buy milk when they shopping at a grocery store. This route strategy force customers to go through a bunch of other items, and attract them buy more things. Especially there is always something at the middle of the aisles. So go through some items maybe people don’t necessary needed becomes a part of the syntagm of shopping experience. And it seems that there is something similar with movie director’s camera. Both of them just put things there to force you to think about it or accept it.

    For online shopping, because there is tool called “Search”, we could get whatever we want more directly and instantly. However, the “store” designers didn’t give up to attract us into their trap,knowing as we did that on line shoppers don’t always have a clear idea about what they are looking for. The designers model the traditional shopping experience by using the margin spaces and put their items in a specific list order at the left panel of their website I guess.

    What I am really trying to articulate is that the syntagm is not always very economically logical. It means that we could always disorder or add something redundant and make the syntagm bigger and beneficial for “us”–maybe someone sells the paradigms, movie director, store manager…

    How could HCI designer use syntagm?

    I believe it is very useful for game designers to lead those gamers to jump into those scenarios one by one and feel very novel and exciting about the game.

    I am sure there is a lot of more areas could benefit from excellent handling about syntagm, and hope hope I could here something here for you.

  2. jeffreybardzell

    Good points, Mingxian. I read in Stephen Johnson’s wonderful though now outdated book that real-life shopping malls are arhcitecturally designed to disorient, to force people to meander through the aisles, rather than being able to walk directly to what they want. How many times have you seen escalators that make you walk around the whole escalator area on each floor to continue down? Or did you ever notice how far you have to walk from your car to the store you want to visit, because there are so few entrances to a mall, and many of them are through a department store? You have inefficiency built into the architectural and interior design of a mall, to expose shoppers to as many products as possible, without creating a fire hazard.

    Is online shopping like that? Not exactly. The search and browse functions generally appear to be designed for efficiency–you get to the thing you are interested in right away–but the exposure to product is nonetheless maximized in various ways: “if you like X, you might also like Y,” or “[[This store]] recommends X,” or “before you check out, here’s a bunch of other accessories that might also interest you.”

    In this sense, the syntagmatic axis is different, that is, how elements of the shopping experience are combined into sequences; yet the overall goals and even many, though not all, of the individual options (paradigmatic axis) remain the same.


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