“An affordance is a relation, specifying the possible interactions of one thing with another, where the things can be animate or inanimate; intelligent or not; human, animal, or manufactured object or system. Because affordance is a relation, it is a powerful, context-sensitive design concept.”

(Norman 2015)

Reflect on your experience of the Affordances exercise by answering the following questions:

1) Choose one of the objects you selected and describe how your initial understanding of affordances changed over the course of exercise?

The object chosen for the exercise was a small egg beater designed in the shape of an egg with the facial features of a chicken. Initially, I observed the egg like shape of the object which gave a visual suggestion of the utensil’s function. The three shaped wires forming the top of the object provided the visual clue that it belonged in a particular group of kitchen utensils, specifically whisk beaters.

When the position of the egg beater changed and it could be seen lying horizontally on a surface, the flat foot shaped bottom of the object was observed. We were then able to consider other possible functions of the utensil that could be afforded through the use of this bottom surface, including stamping, flattening and pattern making in other softer materials such as pastry.  The wires in the whisk part created the possibility of using it to create other patterns in soft materials. The gaps between the wires of the whisk were also considered at this angle. This led to the utensil being placed upright and the wires were used to hold pieces of paper. This allowed the utensil to act as a memo or recipe holder.


Modifications to the egg beater including wrapping the wires suggested uses such a Venetian blind duster and makeup applicator. Had the egg beater been able to be deconstructed it is possible other affordances would have been found. Additionally, if more craft material was available to further modify the utensil it is possible that additional uses would have emerged.

2) Given that affordance is a relational property between a person and an object, how did the manipulation of the person’s abilities inform your understanding of the concept? Did it give you inspiration or insight for how to work with affordance as a designer? Discuss this through the specific objects you explored in the exercise.

The first consideration on the direct interaction with the object was its feel and shape. The rough non-slip texture of the egg shape was not apparent on sight nor the important design feature that the egg fitted snugly into a closed hand.  The group members chose to modify the human user by restricting the use of fingers, then hands. It was evident that the design of this object required the use of fingers, particularly thumbs to perform its original function. However, a new affordance emerged as the utensil acquired rolling qualities that had not been previously considered.

By further limiting the user’s abilities, two new design possibilities occurred.  The first was how the design could be improved for physically disadvantaged users, where for example, by hollowing out the base and placing a small bell inside it, an auditory feedback mechanism such as a constant ringing bell sound would indicate optimum whisking technique. That would not only improve whisking technique for the visually impaired, but would also benefit those without physical challenges. The second design possibility involved improving secondary capabilities such as pattern stamping that could be further enhanced to allow the device to become more truly multi-functional, thereby increasing its utility in ways completely outside the modalities of the original design concept.


Norman, D. A. (2015). “Affordances: Commentary on the Special Issue of AI EDAM.” Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing : AI EDAM 29(3): 235.

JMAR0157    Joanne Martin