“…the term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. […] Affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things. Plates are for pushing. Knobs are for turning. Slots are for inserting things into. Balls are for throwing or bouncing. When affordances are taken advantage of, the user knows what to do just by looking: no picture, label, or instruction needed.” (Norman 1988, p.9, The Design of Everyday Things)

Capturing Affordances from everyday objects

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

The good ole’ fashion toothbrush; easy, obvious design right. Everyone has one type or another, that we use with the recommendation that we brush our teeth twice a day. Too easy…or was it?

The toothbrush was an airline giveaway, which included a small toothpaste. It’s design is supposed to be small, light, with no bells and whistles. That was my assumption. The actual affordance was  to clean your teeth with. However, throughout the exercise, from step 1-3, each step brought a new found affordances, that to my own admission, I had not considered previously. Each step brought a different light to the design, even the most basic one.

For example, a perceptible affordance, was in the form of the handle; literally. The shape of the handle, even though a give away toothbrush has this little, oval shaped groove about 2 cm underneath that bristles. Plus, the back of the brush was curved as well. This was a perceived affordance, what I believe it should be able to do. Lo and behold, it actually fit my hand comfortably and easily. The combination of the two in terms of its actual and perceived properties (Norman, 1999), provides you with that different experience, whereby the relationship with the object is developed.   Perhaps, may have been different had the shape of the brush had not fit so nicely in my hand.

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

One of the best exercises, that we did, was to tape up my hands together, where I was instructed to take a picture on my phone. At first, the task seemed impossible, then what did amaze me, was the how quickly I adapted to the situation. With my thumbs out of action, I had to depend on both of my index fingers working, so I could pick up my device. Then my actions become almost methodical, in terms of moving the device, then finally taking a picture. It was not easy, and it took longer then it normally would have, but it was doable.

What the exercise did, was in fact, enabled me to see how the pertinent negative was so obvious. The pertinent negative is basically what did not happen, what wasn’t there, making something else obvious or true. In this case, by not being able to type or use my thumbs, I realised how my usage of the phone  is dependent on my thumbs being fully functional, then if the design is then flawed for that reason alone. From a designer’s point of view, I think that this is crucial as this starts a new chain of creative thinking that opens up another set of possibilities.

Even with the toothbrush, by placing foil underneath the brush, I could possibly see how there was perhaps a need to place a “drip tray” (tried to upload a pic but the gallery has no more space). At times, there can be dripping  from the foam and water. Not to say that this is a viable solution, however, it allows to you to question the current affordances as well possible improvements in the design.