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Exploring the impact of interface signs’ interpretation accuracy, design, and evaluation on web usability: A semiotics perspective

Muhammad Nazrul Islam (Department of Information Technologies, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland)
Franck Tétard (Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)

Journal of Systems and Information Technology

ISSN: 1328-7265

Article publication date: 4 November 2014




The purpose of this empirical study was to address two important concerns of Web usability: how user-intuitive interface signs affect Web usability and how applying semiotics (i.e. the doctrine of signs) in user interface (UI) design and evaluation helps to improve usability.


An empirical research approach is followed here to conduct three user tests. These tests were conducted on a Web application with 17 test participants. Data were gathered through laboratory-based think-aloud usability test, questionnaires and interviews. Following an empirical research approach, statistics and user behavior analysis were used to analyze the data.


This study explores two important concerns of UI design and evaluation. First, users’ interpretation accuracy of interface signs impact on Web usability. The study found that users’ interpretation of signs might be accurate, moderate, conflicting, erroneous or incapable; user-intuitive interface signs led participants to interpret signs’ meaning accurately; and users’ inaccurate interpretation of one or a few task-related interface sign(s) led users to usability problems, resulting in participants performing tasks with lower task-completion performance. Second, considering semiotics perception in UI design and evaluation is important to improve Web usability. This study showed that interface signs, when re-designed considering the semiotics guidelines, have increased the end-users’ interpretation accuracy and the interface signs’ intuitiveness. This study also provides a small set of semiotics guidelines for sign design and evaluation.


This study empirically demonstrated that signs’ intuitiveness impact on Web usability and that considering the semiotics perception in sign design and evaluation is important to improve Web usability. These outcomes are valuable in a number of ways to HCI researchers and practitioners: the results provide awareness of the importance of user-intuitive interface signs in UI design; practitioners can easily adopt the concept of interpretation accuracy classification to conduct a sign test to obtain an “overall impression of interface signs’ intuitiveness”; practitioners can easily adopt the methodological approach followed in this study to conduct usability test without additional resources; and the results raised important fundamental questions for future research such as “what does a practitioner need to be aware of when designing or evaluating interface signs?”



The author would like to thank all the participants of this study. Åbo Akademi Foundation (ÅAF), Finnish Economic Education Foundation, HPY:n Tutkimussäätiö (Elisa Oyj), Nokia Foundation, TeliaSonera Research and development Foundation in Finland provided the grant that has made this research possible. For this, ÅAF, LSR, Elisa and TeliaSonera are gratefully acknowledged. To Franck Tétard, thank you for your feedback and suggestions for strengthening this paper. The author also thanks several anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


Nazrul Islam, M. and Tétard, F. (2014), "Exploring the impact of interface signs’ interpretation accuracy, design, and evaluation on web usability: A semiotics perspective", Journal of Systems and Information Technology, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 250-276.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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