Posts tagged “affordance”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Photo Clichés (You're Not As Original As You Think) – Pictures of people being uniquely hilarious, just like all the other people who took the same photo – (via kottke) At first I thought yeah, people are really lame, acting all goofy and clever but being just like everyone else, but then I realized that this is all about culture, and design. Cultural stories – memes – travel fast, far, and wide, and so imitating a famous pose become a rapid shorthand for belongingness. And designed objects and environments have affordances, built-in invitations to be used a certain way, to be grabbed, held aloft, or whatever. Everyone puts their head in the shark's mouth because it's designed to invite you to do so. When people use a product over and over the way it was intended, we may consider that a design success. So while these are funny pictures to look at it the aggregate, it doesn't mean that we (or the people in the pictures) are all that lame. We're collecting and transmitting culture and we're responding to artifacts that are designed to be used any number of ways.

Sliding Doors

Public bathroom doorway, Karuizawa, Japan, January 2008

Before we hiked up the nearby mountain I wanted to use the bathroom. I was very frustrated to find the door locked. I pushed and pulled and saw the keyhole for the deadbolt and figured I was out of luck. Then I saw someone enter the adjacent women’s room – by sliding the door. I wouldn’t expect a bathroom door to slide, and I didn’t interpret any of the cues (or affordances) about how this door works to suggest sliding was a possibility.

Social adaptation overrides technology affordances

I received an email last week that stated, in part

My boss is away for the next week or two but I will forward her your e-mail when she returns.

This gave me pause.

Of course, you could forward the email any time you want, and it’ll just be held the boss’s inbox until she returns. The technology (store-and-forward) affords that quite nicely. From a technological point of view, my correspondent “should” forward the message immediately and get on with her day.

But my correspondent suspects that’s not the best way to do things, because there’s people in this system. And people behave to optimize against different constraints than technology does. We all have our little usage rules, and we all adjust our usage of technology in order to be most successful.

Perhaps the boss is checking email while she’s away, and will discard anything not mission-critical. Or perhaps the boss isn’t checking email, but will be burdened with a huge number of messages in her inbox when she returns. My correspondent is respecting her boss by not contributing to that, and respecting me by “handling” my email properly.

We’ve helped a few clients understand how their customers’ work cultures have evolved to the point where there are complete-but-unwritten rule sets for sharing documents, information, collaboration, communicating via telephone, email, and IM, and most other “work” activities. As the tools change, the behaviors change.


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