Thinking about affordances & convention in web design

I wrote the following intending to include it in an email newsletter I send out. I had Chey read it and it seems the word “affordance” used in this way is a bit too esoteric. I’ve started trying to rewrite it, starting from the user-testing paragraph, but I’m having trouble writing about this concept without using the word. This is really hard. Writing sucks.

Any ideas? I think I’m about to scrap this idea and try some other topic.


Donald Norman, usability expert and author of The Design of Everyday Things, makes an important distinction in the concept of affordances: There are affordances and perceived affordances.

An affordance is a property of an object that suggests a way we can interact with that object. Affordances exist whether or not we perceive them. For instance, since a bed is cushioned and horizontal, it affords laying down. To my daughter, since the bed is cushioned, horizontal, and a little springy, it also affords jumping up and down on.

As web designers, we are concerned with the affordances perceived by visitors to our web sites. Our problems arise when we count on an affordance of an interface element that our site visitors don’t realize.

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