Design of Amazon Webpage

After finishing the readings this week, especially for Murray’s article, I have strong feelings about the great efforts digital designers bring into the design process to meet human needs and expectations. I started to find screenshots of the Amazon webpage from different periods of time. It is obvious that the interfaces have been upgraded overtime. However, I have never thought that the way we think of affordances and constraints are also changing, which has great influence on people’s thoughts, behaviors and interaction with digital media.

What does Amazon webpage look like when it first launched?

The layout of the webpage is simple which consists of a logo, words in black and blue underlined words. Murray states that “some digital conventions script us in a transparent way”. The blue words are distinguished from the black ones, which cues us for hyperlinks. It also reflects the Norman’s idea of perceived affordances. They are cultural constraints that one should move the cursor to the blue underlined words and click them in order to reach the hyperlinks. At the same time, physical and logical constraints exist on the webpage in that one could only move the cursor inside the screen while knows how to scroll down for more lists of links. However, the webpage is not well organized into categories and genres.

When it comes to the Amazon webpage in 1999, more icons like the drop-down menu and the “Go!” button are designed as visual feedback to distribute affordances. Specifically, the protruding design of the “Go!” button implies that this is a button to press for more information. The icon with the letter “Go” also has a cognitive affordance of proceeding. Considering the situation if there’s a letter “Back” on the bottom, users definitely would not press it for search results while would press it for previous steps instead. In addition, there is a huge design evolution for the template. From the perspective of distributed cognition, the formats of websites could be treated as cognitive schemas that users clearly know about the functions of each part. An understandable template for an online shopping website should be designed like the layout of products in grocery stores, with design conventions like categories of products, the section of customer services, an available shopping cart for each customer, and the check out area, etc. The design conventions provide affordances for users during the interaction process.

In addition to abundant layout of information and perceived affordances, I think one of the most prominent design features of the newest site is the wide use of social participation compared to previous versions. Murray explains affordance of the digital medium as participatory, meaning the formation of many-many communication. Under the design convention of customer reviews, users not only post reviews, but also leave comments or even directly email to a customer for purchase experiences. It potentially raises the privacy issue that anyone could see your purchase history once you leave customer reviews about the products. Moreover, randomly noticing advertising related to Amazon purchase history also drives us attention and worry about security problems. After all, “a good design is aimed at perfecting the object and at improving the overall practice of the field” (Murray, 2012), designers should take the spread of information into account under the circumstance of the participatory media environment.

Question: I’m also considering the important role of algorithm takes place on Amazon nowadays, especially for the precise display of customers’ purchase behaviors. I’m quite confused about Murray’s explanation of procedural affordance, which particularly mentions about the idea of algorithm. How could we connect the use of algorithm on Amazon with procedural affordance?


Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6, no. 3 (May 1999): 38-43.

Quito, A., & Quito, A. (n.d.). What Amazon’s homepage looked like when it launched 21 years ago this month. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from

Go Back In Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from

Customer Review. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from