Posts tagged “affordances”

From Pain Points to Opportunity Areas

The subtle difference between a knob and a lever.

An unexpected interaction with a familiar object.

At a restaurant in San Mateo, the knob from a stove replaces the toilet flush lever. Each of us who use the toilet that evening come back to the table struck by what an unexpectedly pleasant experience it is to turn the knob.

As a researcher or designer, you are not going get to this surprisingly delightful interaction if you constrain your thinking around the idea of pain points – i.e. what is not working for people. Of course no one is going to buy your company’s toilet if it leaks or doesn’t flush – products need to perform their primary functions reasonably well – and as part of an exploration of user experience it’s necessary to find out whether this is indeed the case. But if you are laser-focused on the question “What’s not working for you?” you’ll miss all sorts of opportunities.

In our research engagements we like to include discussion with people about the things in their lives that are working really well for them – inside and outside the focus areas of the project. By figuring out what’s at the heart of these interactions, we might learn, for example, something about the way a service works that we can apply to the development of a product. Or a person might say “I just love the way the big chunky knobs on my Viking stove feel.” And it might be the transposition of this small finding in an ideation session that helps our client go on and create innovative toilets.

We encourage our clients to move from focusing on pain points to thinking about Opportunity Areas. We use what we learn out in the field to point them in promising directions, with a focus on asking “How can we __________ ?”

Affordance Control

Affordances for hanging clothes suggested by the fire prevention sprinklers in this Iowa City hotel led to the creation and posting of “no hanging” signs.



Nicolas Nova discussed similar tensions between designed intentions and serendipitous affordances in a recent post on design exhibits.

The need to discourage some uses while encouraging others adds an interesting layer to the design problem space, especially in contexts where there are widely varying types of user.

Skateboard deterrent devices are a common “anti-affordance,” usually retrofit after skaters discover alternate uses for a structure (skaters are virtuosos at finding and exploiting all sorts of affordances).


This particular anti-skate hardware is sold by

“The GrinderMinder is intended to maintain the integrity of your beautifully planned landscape design, without detracting from the overall effect of the landscape.”

Grind2aHalt’s product is designed not only to thwart unintended use (skating) but also to support the intentions of the original design — in this case, the aesthetic aspects of that design.

It’s a good reminder of how complex the dynamics of objects, context, and usage are. Even this outwardly simple product is actually operating on many levels.

NOTE: This is not an anti-skateboarding post. I offer this picture of myself, circa 1981 …


Related posts:
In November ’07, Nicolas and Steve had another go-round on anti-skating devices.


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