I thought an interesting issue came up during our discussions of paradigm and syntagm last week. The concept of syntagm helps us to understand how the sequence of different signs in an expression is constitutive of their meaning. This would seem to be a useful concept for HCI, considering that interactions, as much as any other ‘medium’, develop and unfold over time. The interesting part though is that in an interaction design, the ordering of parts is often not specified and is rather left open for the user to determine. True, some task-based software might have a fairly predetermined ordering. However many artifacts, such as websites, give the user a great deal of control over the syntagmatic differences every step of the way. What are the implications of this and how should it be dealt with by designers?
To me, this suggests that structural critique of an interaction is much more complicated than critique of film. A given interactive application can have so many different meanings depending on the user’s choices. The user is playing an active role in constructing those meanings. Sometimes understanding the possible meanings might be a matter of doing the math, enumerating all the possible paths through an application. Othertimes, though, an application might be so open-ended that it would hard to say much about the application in general. In that case, it seems you would have to do some observation and then structurally analyze particular user interactions.