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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Mooter.com

Need to search the Web for something? Try this instead of Google (okay, I know you’ll end up back at Google, but this is cool, so try it once):

Mooter.com.

It shows your search results as a cluster diagram. So, for instance, if you search for our dear, lovable old “Noel Heikkinen,” you’ll find clusters for the following:

  • All Results
  • email noel
  • journal
  • heikkinen (which happens to be bold, I assume they think it is the most relevant)
  • jr
  • pm
  • church
  • by noel heikkinen

Clicking on a cluster will bring up a results page that shows a list of links as we’re more accustomed to. Mooter also shows a custom sidebar on those pages that you can use to jump to different clusters.

So, thoughts? I think it’s encouraging to see this alternate approach to providing search results. It seems a more relational model (visually, at the very least) than going by sheer link relevancy or popularity. Google rearranged the world of search by introducing the link popularity idea. Other search engines have been running scared since, and while there are rumors of the future downfall of Google due to comparable lack of demographic data (compared to Yahoo! for instance