Week 6

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Many affordances that are linked to books are so ingrained in my understanding of books that it is difficult to separate the inferences derived from using books to what they actually are. On a basic level, a book is a physical vessel of information.The affordances of books and inferences that can be made from using a book are much more complex.As written in the Introduction to Affordances, Constraints and Interfaces, “the inferences we make are learned from socialization into what’s normative in using all the built “stuff” in a culture.” (Irvine). Books have been integral to my life since the day I was born, so it isn’t difficult to see why my inferences about books and readers are innate. One affordance that I almost almost have whenever I see a person reading a book is that the reader is curious about the world. Other affordances about books include ideas like books can be used to teach, learn or entertain, books impact ideologies and world views , books should be read from right to left and that books should have dark font on light paper. These are just a few of the affordances that come to mind when thinking of the representative nature of books and those who use them. In understanding design, it is easy to see how many of these affordances have been transferred to technology and digital media.

On a physical level, opening a laptop is learned behavior from opening a book. Both laptops and books are square folded devices, if a person holds a closed laptop by its spine and opened it it would mimic the act of opening a book. This learned behavior is a result of the affordances of books. On a digital level, many operational functions on a laptop are similar to operating a book. One clear example is the ability to switch screens by swiping left or right on the mouse pad. This relatively new feature to technology is a replication of turning a page in a book. In both actions, the meaning is implicit, the user wants to view different information. Other affordances from books have been integrated into the interface of web browsers. Janet Murray explained that designers are often engaged in the process of refinement and the  fact that there are four universal functions and “buttons” on the toolbar of a webpage is not only simple but initiative.. Murray also states, “It is an appropriate design strategy to exploit the interactor ’ s unconscious expectations and knowledge to cue their interaction with a new artifact or process, making the experience feel “ intuitive ”rather than difficult to understand or hard to learn.” ( Murray 2012). This explanation helps to clarify the presence of the back and forward arrows on a browser tool bar. A novice computer user can almost immediately identify the purpose of the back button because of his, her or their prior experience with reading books. The arrows on webpages indicate access to either old or new webpages which is representative of how readers use books.


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.