Week 6_ A Brief Analysis of Books’ Affordances and Interfaces

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Tianyi Zhao

Books have been one of the most universal and typical artefacts for over three hundred years. Similarly, as affordances and interfaces are significant and indispensable characters to artefacts, they have been parts of human built world for thousands of years. This short essay will briefly explain how affordances and interfaces adopted on books and their remediation to digital forms.

The affordances on books are quite various. Based on Herbert Simon’s statement, the “inner” environment of an interface should be appropriate to the “outer” environment. As for the “inner” environment design, Jiajie Zhang and Vimla Patel argue that from the perspective of distributed cognition, affordances in internal space can be divided into biological, physical, perceptual and cognitive affordances. (Zhang & Patel 338) I figure out that books belong to the mix-affordance artefacts. First of all, the physical structures and form factor of books are finely designed for different types. Besides the fact that all the books are “portable” and “stored locally,” the size of pocket books perfectly and intentionally affords to our coat pocket; and the classic collections– hardcover, gracefully designed with large size– can stand for quite a long-time storation. Another example is the pup-up books for toddlers. Traditionally, we treat books are “two-dimensional substrates for our representing all of our sign systems.” (Irvine 2) However, pop-up books are breaking the boundaries of space. They are three-dimensional and movable books with abundant types– animated books, transformations, tunnel books, etc.. Even some book artists have leverage it for artistic creation.

(Tao Hua Yuan Ji at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Colette Fu.                                            Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colette_Fu)

Moreover, books have shown cognitive affordances as well, which are provided by cultural conventions. For example, the spines of the books written and made in ancient China were on the right hand. The texts should be read from right to left vertically. It afforded to the Chinese characters and were also “good” enough to fulfill users’ expectations so that a unique habit was cultivated until last century.

Compendium of Materia Medica, printed version, Cangzhou, China.                                                                                                              Source: https://sns.91ddcc.com/t/37416 )

The digital remediation of books has changed my study habit a lot. Apple iPad Pro, launched in 2017 and simply works with Apple Pencil, finally realized the transformation of pixel-based interactive screen interfaces. They are light (only weigh around 1.5 pounds) and portable like books. No matter the book has only 50 pages or 1,000 pages, the weight is never a conundrum since they are digitally stored in the applications. Besides, the screen size is much larger than books so that user’s reading experience has been improved with the adjustable display brightness and book-like page designs. The two sizes– 10.5 and 12.9 inches– have satisfied the different demands; for instance, the larger one is always favored by artist students as sketchbooks. The environment when reading is no longer limited as books. The display brightness empower to read in darkness, and the zooming function liberates the reading distance to eyes, which are highly restricted when reading books.

(Reading with iPad Pro. Source: https://www.macworld.com/article/3201035/ios/105-inch-ipad-pro-review.html)

As computational and digital technologies inherit from the past ones and develop as continuum, I believe there will be a new subversive artefact to revolute our current reading habits, which will break through the dimensional limitation by leveraging with artificial intelligence or virtual reality technologies.


Works Cited 

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Affordances and Interfaces.”

Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2016): 333-341.