Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Norman's Affordances

Norman’s Affordances (Cindy Marinak) edit

Donald Norman’s The Psychology of Everyday Things discusses affordances, which are the perceived and tangible properties that provide clues to how an object works. Norman provides the example that a chair gives support hence affords sitting. Affordance is not only applicable to physical objects, but it is also applied to software design. (Norman 1988)

In software design, the raised style of a button or icon affords clicking. Similarly, the cursor changing from a pointer to a hand when the user hovers over a hyperlink, button, or icon provides a visual cue that the screen element is clickable.

In addition to affordance, the understanding of an object is interpreted by cultural factors, feedback, and the user’s mental model, which is formed through previous experiences. (Norman 1988) The aforementioned principles are also common considerations for software design. For instance, in an earlier class module, the cultural semantics of color were discussed specifically highlighting that red is interpreted differently by various cultures. (Carroll 2003) Teams localizing a software product may consider color, iconography, and screen layout (some cultures read right to left) among the factors that impact the user’s understanding of a design.

Practitioners’ consideration of visible cues; understanding of affordance; mental models of the target audience; cultural constraints inform design decisions that allow users to interpret how the object or design works.

Works Cited Carroll, John M. HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003. Norman, Donald A. The Pyschology of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988.