Reflection no. 3
The main focus of the discussion this week was on Don Norman’s concept of affordances and the importance of affordances in design. An affordance is basically the link between the functionality of any product or item which is directly linked to the design. These can be either visual or physical. A product with a strong affordance would be something that even a cave man could figure out how to use. This could be as basic as a chest of drawers with handles; the only interaction one can perform with it is to pull out the drawer, which is the functionality that it is designed for. If we use the same product to see an example of a weak affordance; it could be a drawer with no handle but a “push to open” mechanism built-in. This would require some thinking to figure out how to open. A chest of drawers can also be used to define a false affordance; many drawer chests have fake drawers with handles that do not open and serve no function — they are only created for the visual.
The design of the product that would determine the affordance also includes the material it is made of. This would directly affect the functionality; we can make a comparison with a steel ball and a tennis ball. Both are the same shape, but one is definitely better suited to play catch with. Material plays an important role in the real and perceived affordance of a product. For example, a corrugated metal ceiling may be preferred over a fiberglass ceiling for its sturdiness and reliability, but the metal will conduct more heat and therefore have a lower affordance in terms of protection from weather conditions.
An object may also have two or more affordances, in which case the primary function of the object is the real affordance. In the case of a tooth brush, the real affordance is evidently to brush your teeth. Now if the tooth brush could be used for a different purpose, one that it is not intended for, it would create a hidden affordance; the brush could be used to clean small crevices or maybe even jewelry.
As mentioned in my previous blog, a good design is invisible. In order for a product to have a strong affordance it needs to be a good design. Lack of research results, more often than not, in bad design — this results in a week affordance of a product. The importance of design research, therefore, is extremely high — without research, the designer cannot determine how to shape the product or which material to use in order to create the strongest affordance. We often see product packaging that quite complex; this is a result of little or no design research in terms of how the product will be interacted with and how the user will perceive it. This is not just confined to product design but it also very important in web or interface design.