Affordance and Design

In this week’s readings, Murray argues that by “calling objects made with computational technology new media obscures the fact that it is the computer that is defining difference not novelty.” And because of the fact that this term, new media, includes a variety of applications, it may encourage sloppy thinking and with sloppy thinking, as Norman also suggests, often leads to sloppiness in design. Thus, Murray recommends replacing this term with a single new medium, digital medium. She says that there are four representational properties of digital environments/medium: procedural, participatory, spatial and encyclopedic. Let us take a look at iOS keyboard. Why is the iOS keyboard good? Although the virtual keyboards of other systems are basically larger than the iOS keyboard in terms of size, their visual experience is still a mess in comparison.

The iOS keyboard is the ancestor of the (new generation) virtual on-screen keyboard. It has many innovative designs and technical applications. When the first generation of iPhone was launched, Apple made a detailed and comprehensive video introduction, including an introduction to the iOS keyboard. Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at WWDC 2007 starting with a revolutionary user interface; he started with listing four mobile phones with full keyboards, Moto Q, BlackBerry, Palm Treo, and Nokia E62, which were called “smartphones” at the time. Their buttons and operations cannot be changed, whether you need it or not, it is always there. But different applications require different user interfaces and so in contrast, the iOS virtual keyboard only appears when needed. Different keyboards are used in different applications. For example, if you open up Safari on your iPhone, your keyboard will automatically provide you with a keyboard that has “.com”. At the same time, the virtual keyboard needs to solve the problem with accuracy and efficiency so that typing can be easy and fast. And the use of magnifying glass for easy cursor repositioning, automatic correction and phrase matching. There is also an innovative design that predicts the next letter, word, phrase or even name based on the dictionary and users’ typing habits or preferences. Speaking of another innovative design of the iOS keyboard, it is the enlarged display card when the key is triggered. Whether it is from the visual experience before, during or after the operation, the iOS keyboard makes people feel its implicit excellent performance. Although in fact we are just tapping the glass/screen, it enriches the experience. It is just a piece of glass. Why do some people have a better experience and some don’t? Of course, this is not too much related to glass. It is mainly because of the interactive interface. For example, the iOS keyboard is easier to press than the Android keyboard, so what are the advantages and features of the iOS keyboard? The answer “good design” is too general so let’s look at affordance.

Clear information focuses more on the organization, arrangement and presentation of information. This is more obvious in user interface design because the carrier of the affordance and the perceivable information are similar. Since the interface is displayed on one screen, then the information, the organization, arrangement, and presentation of the “scale” determine its pros and cons. The reason why the iOS keyboard looks better is not because it looks more like a physical keyboard but because of the exquisiteness of the scale. Just like the virtual keyboard, the interaction through the interface is a process. Under this affordance (in some cases, it can be used for input) is embedded with many other affordances, and its user experience is an integral process.


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

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.