Affordances — Reflections.

Uneeb Faridy
2 min readSep 21, 2020

Affordances are everywhere. When you take into account interaction, a means through which we ourselves find meaning (built upon what we have learned of Heideggerian theory so far), it becomes quite apparent that the affordances that are offered to us play a hand in not only shaping designs, but also shaping our perceptions.

Affordances are important not only in allowing us to access greater action and control over our lives, but also easing them in terms of ergonomics and efficiency. The way a design affords its usability to a viewer can dramatically speed up the interaction and create an intuitive feedback and cycle of use with the interactor. Yet, the cycle does not stop here.

As a matter of fact — the affordances that a design or object offers are not limited to those that it is designed for — the human mind tends to conjure up any number of possibilities with which to creatively use the tools he is given in his own context. This comes especially at play for when, say, an item or tool loses its usability, is imperceptible as to what it affords, or generally finds itself present-at-hand. In this case, the user then tries to use another object to fulfil that un-afforded gap. Say, using a pen to scratch your back, or using a toothpick to open your SIM card slot when you can’t find the one provided with the phone. These uses even extend to aspects that might not have been considered as part of affordances — such as the material being used.

While many issues arise with Affordances at times (false or hidden affordances, lack of design considerations such as material, lack of constraints— especially digitally), we have ways of dealing with them by following mental models — learned experiences that come from our context, research and prior usage. However, these are not infallible, as different societal cultures have different mental models on their own lived contexts.

I have always had a question of the extent that we design to afford us. As we have discussed before, the methods through which we are provided affordances in our designs have the power to fundamentally alter our perceptions for future affordances through conditioning. But what is a world that is perfectly afforded? Where there is no gap between will and action and the world is at our fingertips with no conflict or effort? As such, questions of morality arise. Should we then perhaps ask ourselves where we draw the line as to what we afford? Surely, we must design clearly, and concisely, to make sure that our designs communicate our intent and their affordances, but perhaps we should introduce some measure to not to limit our designs affording, but perhaps check WHAT they are affording.

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