Five killer ways to use perceived affordance

This article first appeared in issue 232 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

In his now famous book The Design of Everyday Things, Dr Donald Norman introduced the concept of affordance to the world of design.

The term affordance refers to the actions that a person can take on an object. For example, we know that you flip a light switch up or down to turn the lights on or off because we inherently understand this affordance of the light switch. In screen design what we are really working with is perceived affordance, because according to Dr Norman, as designers the only thing we have control over is what the user perceives to be the affordances of what we create.

Consider the onscreen button. It’s up to us to make sure the user understands that it’s clickable by whatever visual design queues we give to it.

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