Affordances and Interfaces of Book and E-Book

Affordances and Interfaces of Book and E-Book
Yingxin Lyu
Books have many affordances. As mentioned in Introduction to Affordances, Constraints, and Interfaces1, they provide paper as surfaces for people to write, read, and print, their shapes are for users to hold while reading, they are portable, and they can be stored in bookshelves. Besides these ones, I tried to find other different affordances.
First, because more people are right handed, they tend to write from left side to the right. Similarly, they read from left to right, thus the book is designed to open from left to right, which allow people to read in the way they are accustomed to. In addition, the affordance is more like a perceived affordance worked with cultural conventions, as Noram’s2 saying. Second affordance is related to what Norman defined as “physical constraint”. He uses a good example: “it is not possible to move the cursor outside the screen.”3For a book, at the end of every page, the reader will know the sentence, or the story is not end although on the present right side of the paper, there is no more content. He or she will turning  the page and start to read one new page from the left side instead of trying to discover more content in the original right or left side pages. The reader knows the constraints, and the “physical constraint is closely related to real affordances”.4
Moreover, about the concept “interface”, Herbert Simon proposes that “An artifact can be thought of as a meeting point – an “interface” in today’s terms – between an “inner” environment, the substance and organization of the artifact itself, and an “outer” environment, the surroundings in which it operates.”5 Thus, a book can be considered as an interface, and its inner and outer environment can be various. First of all, the substance and organization of the book itself is the words or pictures printed in it, or the content; and the surroundings in which it operates is anywhere the reader is, a study, a classroom, or an underground train, but more specific, it must be near the reader to read. Then, it can be summarized as the interaction between the content and the reader. The book shows something readable and understandable, and the reader tries to learn and understand something shown in the book. Now, trying to apply the definition of “interface” as a technical term, that is, “an interface is anything that connects two (or more) different systems across the boundaries of those system”6, to the interaction between the content and the reader, the content actually refers to the knowledge world created by writer, or the editor, and the reader refers to anyone who receive the knowledge through the book. Thus the book, as an interface, helps the knowledge system created by the writer cross the physical boundaries to interact with readers, because the reader can hardly meet the writer or learn from him or her in reality.
Finally, when considering the transformation from the book to the e-book (or the e-book app in smartphones), the function of the book as an interface does not change a lot, but its affordances change in many aspects. First, it becomes far more portable. A physical book is not only larger but heavier; however, an e-book is very light with thousands of book stored in it, and its shape is better to hold with one hand. Second, the e-book imitates the function of how people turn a page with the physical book. This imitation is for a user to understand how an e-book page-turning function more quickly. Third, the constraint of the screen area (and is also the area for reading) let the user understand the end of a page.

1. Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Affordances and Interfaces.” 4.
2. Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6, no. 3 (May 1999): 39.
3. Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.”40.
4. Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.”40.
5. Simon, H.A., “The Sciences of the Artificial. 3rd.” (1996).
6. Ibid., 4.