Weekly Response – 6

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Here is an underlined text. The first thing we do unconsciously is to click it because it seems to be a hyperlink to an external website. But this link will be a mystery for those who have not encountered a hyperlink before. So we as designers had better improve the interface of hyperlink like this: Click here 🙂 This visual and interpretable design will work for most of the people. When we actually click it, we will find it doesn’t work though. There is a gap between perceived affordance and its actual affordance. Here is another one: Click here 🙂. This time it affords the function of a hyperlink, which leads us to a website. But the only thing we could do with this hyperlink is to click it to browse the new page, or not. It cannot afford other actions like being removed with a simple click. That is the constraint of this design.

Through the hyperlink practice above, we see the completion of affordance as well as its flipside. Both actual and perceived affordances must be well considered in the design. Or the user will feel the gap which leads to the failure of design. “…affordances, both real and perceived, play very different roles in physical products than they do in the world of screen-based products.” A user’s perception and understanding of affordances might vary according to their ability, goals, cultural backgrounds, context, and past experiences.

The hyperlink experiment reminds me of the ongoing debate about “printed newspaper versus online news website”. Online newspaper abounds with countless hyperlinks which lead readers to relevant news based on their reading history; yet newspaper constrains reading content for it is a physical medium with limited space and specific date required. The amount of information they could cover is just one aspect to compare affordances of them. Like any other media artefact, the newspaper has a form–an interface. This form varies according to the layout, design, illustration styles, schemes of departmentalization, etc.. All of those aspects influence reader’s experience and affects their affordance to work.

Image source: The Washington Post

To be more specific, first, the physical attribute of print newspaper affords discussion and interaction in reality. For printed newspaper reader, the experience will be more comfortable when they seat in the armchair or sofa. With print newspaper at home, an open space to share the news and discussions, readers tend to share opinions directly with others who are co-present and find body-to-body company. The physical attribute of printed newspaper affords an enjoyable reading experience in a less mobile world and allows more possibilities to interact with people around you. Yet those affordances have flip sides. Nowadays comparatively large size of print newspapers are not designed for easy reading on the move. To read them, users have to fold the paper, which reduces the visible surface. For online news readers, they might find online page more flexible owing to Web 2.0 tools that enable more dynamic and interactive structure. Their opinion sharing experience with families or friends might be less immediate than the printed newspaper, but online newspapers allow asynchronous sharing of information with internet users on the social network.

Image source: The Washington Post

Plus, being different objects–one analogue and the other digital–print and online newspapers show various of uses. Online news webpage only affords reading and functions related to news. All of those functions are digital objects–they are immaterial. But print newspaper as a material object, it affords not only immaterial function like reading, but also material ones. It is fascinating to see people reinvent the design of newspaper and practice different uses–lighting a fire, wrapping for a gift, even for artistic practice like collage or cut-ups.

Image source: Taylor Houlihan

Besides, both of print and online version affords the function of advertising. In printed one, it might be a work of art or a poster while in online it has a form of banner, pop-up, link, images, etc.. The constraint of printed one is that audience could not get further details of certain advertisement as they could get from online newspapers.

Image source: The Washington Post

The comparison could not be a good vs bad, digital vs. analog dichotomy. When we distinguish the differences we also need to sort out the underlying continuities in those two artefacts. As Prof. Irvine stated in his article, “we live at cultural moment where ‘traditional’ pre-digital media artefacts co-exist in a continuum with digital media, and where much in the digital media design world shares or translates affordances from prior forms. ” In the case of newspaper comparison, we should also take a more broad and inclusive perspective.


Credits to:

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Affordances and Interfaces.”

Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Selections from the Introduction and chapters 1-2.

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