Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Affordances Make the Design

Affordances in DesignEdit

The concept of an affordance is central to the practice of design. Affordances are attributed models or properties by which the utility of a product, service, or experience being designed can be derived from those fundamental perceived or actual properties. Affordances are operational and functional design cues that allow someone to understand how a product, service, or experience operates. In an ideal world, someone who is presented with a designed object will be able to derive the utility of that object by understanding its affordances. In the best of cases, no instructions will be required; the functionality and the action that is afforded will be clear.

Let’s take a hiking boot, for example. On the surface, the material appears to be hydrophobic. It is shaped to cover a foot. There are laces which help secure the boot on the foot and ankle. The boots are secure up to the ankle. The treads are rather sticky when wet because of the rubberized treatment. From an initial perception of this boot, it seems as though it has been designed with foot and ankle protection in mind. Running shoes, on the other hand, are designed similarly in that they protect the foot and ankle but they do that in different ways. The design of the footbed and the design and construction of the sole are designed from an activity-centric perspective. The hiking boot was designed for hiking. The running shoes are designed for running. The affordance of both types of shoes means that they both afford the opportunity to protect the wearer’s feet in varying activity conditions. However, the perceived and actual properties of a hiking boot afford hiking, whereas the perceived and actual properties of a running shoe afford running.

A Good Conceptual ModelEdit

Affordances may be my favorite part of Human Computer Interaction and software development. It is so interesting to me how the brain quickly takes in cues as to how something works, operates, or what it is in general. Secretly, I love seeing negative transfers and thinking about how to avoid them in the future. I think the core to creating positive affordances for most users is a solid conceptual model. As Norman states "When things go wrong, however, or when we come upon a novel situation, then we need a deeper understanding, a good model." In software development and implementations, I see this all the time. Personally, I work to create my concept model so I can later ask questions, think through how certain parts and pieces will come together, and how to anticipate negative affordances.

I also see this with existing software that we have implemented. In fact, on the most recent implementation I was on, the third party vendor had created a whole certificate and licensening for users to be 'certified'. While interviewing others to see if this course and certification would be valuable to me, many people responded with similar answers. Most of them said something along the lines of "it helped me understand the way the system is set up" or "it helped me understand how certain buttons interact with others". Many said this was helpful to them for future enhancements, feature requests, or even reporting bugs. Its clear that understanding the conceptual model of the system was helpful for users, and that the company recognized this as well - which is why they offered this program.