The main research lines investigated at PENSI are:


Semiotic Engineering Theory

The Semiotic Engineering theory is an HCI theory that aims to understand and explain the phenomena involved in the design, evaluation and usage of an interactive system. The Semiotic Engineering theory understands a systemai??i??s interface as a communication between designer and user. This message transmitted by the interface informs to users who the designer thinks they are, what problems the user can solve with the system and how he could solve them. While the user interacts with the interface, he starts to understand the designer message. As this message is sent indirectly through the interface from the designer to the user, it is actually called a metamessage.

This theory was developed in Brazil, in the Semiotic Engineering Research Group (SERG), from PUC-Rio, coordinated by Clarisse Sieckenius de Souza. The theory is widely used in Brazil and internationally recognized.

The research developed at PENSI on Semiotic Engineering searches for an advance and improvement of the theory, collecting data about its application and about the methods that have been applied on new domains, environments and technologies.

Communicability Evaluation Methods

Communicability is a quality of use of an interactive system based on the Semiotic Engineering theory. It is defined as the property of a system to transmit effectively and efficiently to the user the intentions and principles of interaction that guided the design of the system. When there are failures in the communication of the designer for the users, these failures are called ruptures in the communication process.

There are currently two consolidated methods to evaluate the communicability of a system: the Semiotic Inspection Method (SIM) and the Communicability Evaluation Method (MAC), both qualitative and interpretative. SIM is an inspection method, while MAC involves observation of users in a controlled environment.

The research developed at PENSI on Communicability Evaluation Methods involves the investigation of its applicability on different contexts, domains and technologies and the proposal of adapting or creating new communicability methods where SIM or MAC canai??i??t be applied.

Collaborative Systems

Collaborative systems bring new issues to HCI research, since users interacts not only with the system but also with other users through the system. The Semiotic Engineering theory understands that the metamessage sent by the designer must also convey decisions about the group: who can interact with whom, about what, and through what codes or protocols.

The research in this area at PENSI involves proposal of models and tools that can support the design of these systems and also methods that allow evaluation of their quality of use. We also have investigated specific issues in social networks.

Educational Systems

Educational environments present new challenges for interfaces design and evaluation, since these systems must not only allow quality interaction but achieve also some educational purpose through its use. Thus, consolidated HCI directives sometimes do not apply to educational domain. For example, although we usually want to prevent user errors at the interface, in the educational field the teacher often may want to induce the student to the error to let him see or learn certain content. In order to consider the nuances of this field in the theory of Semiotic Engineering, teachers become co-authors of educational environments to support learning (developed for students). This line of research at PENSI includes models and methods that support development and evaluation of educational environments.

Interaction with New Technology or Contexts

New technologies often have their own characteristics that impact user interaction. For example, robots allow or require interaction not only with the control interface, but also with the robot itself. Another example is cell phones, they have limited screen space.

New contexts also require specific considerations, as in the case of games. In games, aspects for assessing the quality of the interaction must involve aspects of entertainment.

Thus, the research at PENSI is into new aspects of interaction that should be considered in design and evaluation of new technologies and contexts like robot control interfaces and games.

Extensible Interfaces

For Semiotics Engineering Theory, the metamessage between designer and users reflects the solution that was “frozen” in some period of proposal. In other words, even if there is a change in the context and requirements of users, or even the vision of the designer on the solution had changed, the existing interface does not change. However, it would be desired that systems could be adapted to the specific needs of users and changes in their reality. For this, the designer must create interfaces that can be customized or extended by users. In terms of Semiotic Engineering, the user becomes a co-author of the designer metamessage, which is the interface.


Ensuring access for all people to computational systems is essential in the current society. Different disabilities often require different computational solutions that allow access to the information. At PENSI, investigations have focused on accessibility for deaf people interaction. Research on accessibility for deaf users has also considered their interaction in specific domains or contexts, like social networks and games.