Affordance and design

Affordance and Visual Feedback Cues


What is affordance? (Gibson 1977)


What we do with our bodies, how we connect with the world


We live in a world that has objects and other people in it.

We negotiate our way around it.

We learn to communicate with people and not bump into people.

Every day we position our body.

‘Excuse me, sorry, can I pass?’


We perceive things visually

We encounter a possibility for action


When you encounter a door, you use the handle.

The way we move our bodies is related to the design of the environment we live in.


B Block

Stairs do not have signs, when using stairs you don’t know what floor you’re on

Heart Space

Mobile Shelf

Glass Partition; has been designed in a way that you can see it but you can’t see it.


Looking at the ceiling, it is helpful to have a higher ceiling.

People used to be shorter, ceilings were lower.



The possibility for action between a person and an object

How do you know how to use a handle?

It’s near your hand

The way that the object conveys information to us

You learn to pull a handle.

In B Block some doors are push doors but have a handle.


How you know how to use things is a certain way is called ‘perceived affordance’


‘There’s a nack to it’. When there is a nack to it that is bad design.

How are things designed so that it is obvious how to use them?


‘Fire Door Keep Shut’

We have to override signs in order to get around.


-Sometimes signs are not logical – we override them with our embodied knowledge.


We all ignore fire door signs all the time.


Propping doors open – Fire hazard

What are the consequences of ignoring the sign?


Norman (1999) – things should be designed in a way that makes it obvious how to use

People’s actions need to be taken into account


Visual feedback cues


How do you know how to open a kid’s cup?

Hinges/grips/lip/dip/ridges – visual feedback cues to push/pull/unscrew


Think about the way things are designed, and how this changes how you use your body


Perceived Affordance


Cursor on a screen – means we can write

Visual cues, it is how we make our way in the world

How you switch things on, taps, soap dispenser


How we use a computer

Seeing the curser flashing – perceived affordance. Actually writing – affordance


Swipe screens

Buttons give you visual cues, perceived affordance

We commonly understand how to do things, how is this?

How do we commonly understand swipe screen technology?


Person born in 1930 compared with person born in 2013

Computers in 80s and 90s

DOS Computers

The only information on the computer is what you put on it. Now with cloud systems/internet the computer has unlimited information on it.


Person born in 1930s

Struggles to use an iPad.

Touching a screen in difficult as you weren’t supposed to touch screens           before

Touch screen technology doesn’t take into account people who are used to buttons


The visual cues of touchscreen appliances are not enough for someone who have not been brought up with it


Born in 2013

Already have touch screen knowledge

Embodied knowledge

Pick up things that are phone shaped

Already swiping, never used a PC


Touch screen is an example of thinking about visual cues and perceived affordance


Touch screen technology requires direct action, and is embodied knowledge


Could be argued that it is a cultural convention that older people find touch screens difficult to use


Norman (1999)

Affordance. It allows you to do something.

How do you design something in a way that people will commonly understand how to use it?

Ring pulls – visual cue

Affordance is about the way in which we interact with things. Visual cues is how we understand how we interact with them (perceived affordances).


Norman got fed up with badly designed objects and environments.

He applied the concept of psychology in design in the 70s/80s – this revolutionised design.


Look at how things are designed and how they might be used.

Give people a prototype and see if they know how it works

Don’t assume that other people know how to use things just because you do.


Blog Entries

-Think about what you already know and write it up on your blog – are there any gaps?

-Think about the concept of perceived affordance and visual cues

-Can you think of an example of something that is beautifully designed?



We learn from childhood, but we also learn from the visual cues we are given. How we interpret visual cues, our embodied knowledge.





Applying Theory to Your Essay


You need to use the theories discussed in the study group in your essay

Might be related to your subject area but doesn’t have to

Something to do with the body + a theory/a few theories we have talked about

Consider what you have been learning

Make a list of theories from the study groups so far


Academic Reading

Go to the index of the book, find your subject of interest or a person/theorist you are interested in, go to the pages and read them. You don’t need to read the whole book.


Use Summon, not Google


Author: lawrenceaaronmaker

Studying a BA Hons in Artist, Designer; Maker at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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