I was a Whole Foods first-timer

Asparagus! Credit to Esteban Cavrico on Flickr.com.
Asparagus! Credit to Esteban Cavrico on Flickr.com.

I am not a foodie. Okay, now that that is out of the way: Whole Foods is amazing.

One evening at last week’s IUE2009 conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my colleague Jackie and I breezed through the local Whole Foods store. From a user experience perspective, my Whole Foods experience was really great. But, let me digest it a bit further.

As author of “Neuro Web Design” Susan Weinschenk explained, our “old brain” triggers on 3 questions: can I eat it, can I have sex with it, and can it harm me.

Upon entering Whole Foods, we were first met with luscious fresh fruits and vegetables. They appeared and smelled a factor better than the normal produce at the grocer in my village. I walked in with the intetion to buy one item: baking powder that uses potato starch instead of corn starch, so when I realized I was gazing lustily at the asparagus, I swallowed my mouthful of saliva and steeled myself with the rational part of my brain. Discipline! I would not succumb. Still, it was delightful to walk around and see the beautiful cuts of meat, the great selections at the deli, the desserts, the wine, the cheeses.

We had circled the store and were approaching the checkout and realized that we hadn’t seen the baking section.

So consider: We were in an unfamiliar store and had not located the item I was seeking. I was not irritated by this. The general happiness of walking through this great store put me in a very tolerant mood. I actually looked forward to seeing what other great things we’d see on the way to finding the baking powder, and I had high expectation that they would, in fact, have the baking powder. They did have it. I bought two cans of it, at a premium price. And, I ended up buying some turbinado sugar that was in the same aisle, since I was nearly out of demerrara sugar that I use for baking (and in coffee and on oatmeal…).

Designers! If you haven’t yet, read “Emotional Design” by Don Norman. Oh, and Weinschenk’s book too.

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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