The importance of diversity for new affordances to become visible (and possible)

Some months ago, in a talk about capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that joins attributes of dance and fight, my husband was approached by a student interested in the capoeira’s movements to the study of robotics. She wanted to explore how such movements could contribute to develop new robots.

As one can see in the video, capoeira explores many affordances of human body, including its flexibility, adaptation of movements according to the other, rhythm – all synthetized in the word “ginga”. If one has ginga, s/he has these characteristics altogether. This is why the Brazilian soccer is known for its ginga, very influenced by African people.


If a robot will be able to reproduce the ginga, one can’t guarantee, but the fact that that African American student was engaged on this goal shows me that the characteristics of the designer also matters for the design itself. Depending on who is in charge of that task, the questions that will be raised will differ substantially as well as the possibility of breaking design conventions and the path dependence on what has been created so far.

Unfortunately, on my perspective, nowadays breaking design conventions became a strategy of companies to impose a programmed obsolescence on products and, consequently, to sell more. Maybe the motivations are grounded on the desire of improving things, but because most of the time the process lacks essence and diversity, with the same people thinking about the same products, transformations are more difficult to occur.

The conversion of hard copy books into digital ones is another example of difficulties in understanding what the digital mediums allow a book to be. Murray remembers that the 500- year books can be considered an expansion of our memory, given that, with them, it is not necessary to remember everything that is written, instead, one only must to know where to find what is looking for. This is why the old book indexes, very rare in hard copies, I need to admit, become, with a different format, the main affordance of digital books (CTRL +F). The Find tool makes the index unnecessary. This affordance also makes the page numbers less important than before.

Designers could rethink the book margins requisite, because printing is not mandatory in digital books. The conversion of reader into “interactor”, in Murray terms, is also a necessity. If the affordances of digital mediums allow such change, why do companies keep only translating the old book model into the new one, without giving the reader more centrality? I accompany this discussion in education and mobile learning fields, and one of the biggest development challenges of the area is taking advantage of the ubiquity, the interaction and the portability of mobile devices for education purposes.  This is why including teachers and students in the educational tools design teams seems key for me. They can bring more grounded thoughts and sensitiveness to understand the affordances of the digital world applied to their realities.

Diversity matters for better design.