Skip to content

The Quest for Defining Digital Affordances

The word affordance has been well used in the field of technology to illustrate the belief that technological determinism has shaped society. The term affordance has moved into a vernacular used from its place in ecological psychology. Affordance was applied in meaningful ways. This suggests that affordance was just inherited in into technology. Therefore, the use of term technological affordance was mainly to communicate a meaning in its direct perception. In the long run, this clearly shows that technology can independently offer an educational advantage for individuals for certain purposes (Natraj N et al., 2015).

Ontology and Taxonomical Interpretations

The ontological interpretation of features is based on the traditional understanding of symbols and signs. Scissors are known for cutting, which implies that when a feature with a scissor is used on the screen layout, the user will often think of the action to cut.  On computers and smartphones, these options are used to cut out information from the display. A border icon is illustrated by a diagram that has borders. The reason for the utilization of this kind of illustration is the traditional knowledge of the users on their implication. For instance, features such as the arrows are known to point the direction, thus pointers to where the operator is navigating to (Tan, Peek, & Chattaraman, 2015).

The features used in digital technologies have to meet the requirements range for the clinical information system, which implies that there is the need to have knowledgeable architectures having ontologies (Natraj N et al., 2015).  The ontology will always support the information being conveyed.  It should be seen that the primary reason for applying ontologies is supporting automatic indexing as well as supporting the composition of description. For the affordances to provide a similar characterization, there is the need to apply some ontological principles. There is a definite wish to consider ontology, though there are drawbacks and benefits that can be reduced to a common foundation. Regarding language, seeing construal linguistic sappers more beneficial, therefore, termed as the ontology that is linguistically motivated (Gaver n .a).

Exploring Digital Affordances

Media offers the affordances that influence the interaction and perception of the audience. The environment in which one operates shapes the properties and actions are chosen. Affordances are a creation of the interacting organism and the environment. They must suit the area of operation, thus the need to take into account the physical and social aspects of the environment in which they have to be applied. The design that is adopted should take into consideration the user abilities and needs (Norman, 1999).

 The design of the digital technology ought to be defined according to the environment in which it will be used and the nature of the user (Norman, 2008). Consequently, there should be a proper physical study to complement both situational action and sociological perspectives. Additionally, the understanding of the affordances can point the kind of design to put in place due to the need to align by the appropriate physical properties that are in tandem with the area of operation. The electronics with positive affordances are more marketable than those that have negative affordances (Uhl, & Gollenia, 2014). 

Digital affordance and a taxonomy only mean not being aware of how humans, as well as computer practices, change, but also on interactions principles, and can also be expressed in affordances in which computer interact with human agency (Gaver, n.a). It includes reconstructing new models by software companies to modernize their platform. Affordability is used in reference possibility of an action that is goal oriented being able to be afforded using a special object. Moreover, this involves representation to enable description, definition and even change the definition. It also allows one to analyze by exploring, simulating and even evaluating relationships (Oliver, 2005).

Moreover, affordance involves transformation that executes planning and, therefore, substituting a human designer. Information control, cooperation, support, infrastructure regarding enabled portability of procedures, skills, knowledge, and storage of information is all that affordability should offer (Natraj N et al., 2015). Use of new technologies is driven by the users’ needs, which determine the design that they take. The advent and use of digital technology are accompanied by a lot of innovations, which are primarily anchored on improving the convenience of these technologies to the users. The first computers were bigger in size, but with time, new smaller models were developed.

The computer icons are designed in the manner that they give direction on what the user ought to do while using them. The indication of the arrows means that more options can be accessed, thus there is a need to click. Ideally, when the outlook of the affordances matches their intended use, it becomes easier for the user to operate it without much difficultness (Oliver, 2005).  On the computers, there are numerous affordances. For instance, the icon for print has a figure of a printer, as a suggestion that clicking on this icon, a relevant feature will invoke the printing of the selected data. The match between the affordances and their use makes it easier for the user to operate digital technologies. The number of errors is reduced and efficient use of the gadget attained (Vidal, Geerts, & Feki, 2013).

The use of remote control systems has unique affordances that make it easier for the user to operate digital technologies. The button with the red light indicates power on and off. One can easily manipulate this feature to switch on and off the machine. Moreover, the up and down keys show how the user can navigate through the given options. For instance, a person can scroll down, up, left, and right by manipulating the navigation keys on the remote control or electronic gadgets such as the computer, cell phone, and tablet (Tan, Peek, & Chattaraman, 2015).

 Moreover, on a computer, the button to turn off and on the machine is positioned away from the other buttons. The reason for this positioning is to make it clear that its role is entirely different from the other options, and its usage is limited to a few commands. The keypads are designed in a manner that they clearly indicate what they are to be used for by the operator. The presence of so many buttons with alphabets and numbers directs the user on what they are meant for use. Digital technologies with these features can be used to type and send information (Norman, 2008).

Vidal, Geerts, and Feki (2013) argue that the availability of ports on any digital gadget implies an area for connection to an external object or environment. For instance, power, printer, and Internet connection cables. The person operating the device is forced to think of the suitable connection that can be fixed via a given port or socket. The manner in which the feature is designed will indicate whether it is among many others the modem, USB cable, or the LAN wire that can be connected (Verhulsdonck & Limbu, 2014).

The touch screens have a smooth and simple display; there are no artificial buttons but the touchable features can be manipulated to get the desired results. For instance, smartphones have an icon that has the telephone handle, which indicates receiving and making calls. Upon pressing this option, the user will be automatically be making a call if there is a contact that is selected, whereas the incoming calls carry the same feature. Moreover, the red button with a telephone handle indicates hanging or disallowing the call (Jain et al., 2011).

The suggestion of how an affordance can be used is very vital in minimizing errors.  The apparent use should rhyme with the actual features of the entity, mainly those that are essential to determine how the device can be used. Digital gadgets such as phones that are not user-friendly often tend to have negative affordances. The simplicity of the instrument is what appeals to the operator’s intuition and comfortability. Pictures and symbols convey information, which influences individuals understanding of particular features (Norman, 2008). 

According to Ranker (2015) when people use a gadget for the first time, their intuition or perception guides most of the actions that they take while operating it.  The design of various features guides their understanding of how to use each option. Positive affordances make it easier for individuals to use new devices for the first time. On the other hand, negative affordances distract the potential users from using a gadget.  The client’s perception is critical in the marketability of any digital technology, thus the importance of creating a design that is user-friendly. Complicated features are responsible for any errors in the use of modern computerized tools (Li, 2012).

The automated tasks such as drawing process demand for explicitly designed buttons or icons for easier use. The pencil, eraser, brush and other features offer the user a simple and clear guide to their usage. The cognition that one can draw and erase the unwanted parts enhances the ability of the operator to apply aptly drawings when using a computer. The designers have to do a lot of research about the needs of the users and the environment in which they operate (Ranker, 2015).

The icons or features that a digital tool has should rhyme with the intended use, and they should give the user a picture of what are their functions in the way of appearance (Verhulsdonck & Limbu, 2014). A device that demands more effort to use will often fail to gain full acceptance, hence its small sale. The capacity of the society to adopt and widely use a given technology is based on its convenience and effectiveness. Affordance is integral to achieve this kind of success, especially in the competitive world.  Therefore, it is imperative the design of digitalized devices such as cell phones and computers pay much attention to the implied use of each feature for easier use (Yoon, 2015).

 The camera has lens for focusing, which is protected from blockage, and the place that it is located can be easily identified due to the design of the devices, be it a cell phone, tablet, or actual camera. The knobs for adjusting and magnifying the image are definite enough to suggest their roles.  The cues about a feature are vital in any operation, red buttons or icons often symbolize danger or power (Oliver, 2005). Consequently, the operator will approach such features with extra caution.

Normative interpretations help an individual to develop a defined perception about particular or expected relations with a feature.  The option that can be pressed in will just see the used press it to see the outcome. However, adjustable options, such as knobs, invoke tuning. Clickable icons are often accompanied by the pictures or symbols that indicate the kind of results and action that can be attained by clicking on them. For instance, a feature that directs the user to the picture might have photographs, which implies a photo store or creation icon (Norman, 2008).

The inbox message option is often represented by a symbol of an envelope, a clear indication that message can be accessed, created, or stored at that particular feature. In this respect, when the user wants to read messages, he or she will click this icon (Taipale, 2014). The designing of the graphical screen layout takes into account the conservative user interpretations and perceptions of the placement and symbols. The position and plan of each sign should be in tandem with the expected use of the feature.  The designers often opt to include text for easy interpretation of the roles each icon (Li, 2012).

According to Taipale (2014), the features such as edit, delete, page number and break, insert, and bold on the computer are valuable to writing using the keyboard. They assist the writers and readers to adjust the text in a manner that they prefer because of these icons are quick and efficient to use. An icon with a symbol for equation implies mathematical formulas, thus gives the user a clue of what to do. Digital affordances should allow individuals to transition to easily operate new technologies. The lead information should be inscribed in the design of the electronic appliance (Yoon, 2015).    

The cross symbols on the computers are among the most succinct features that can quickly guide the user without much straining. The click on the icon triggers the closure of the page the individual had opened (Taipale, 2014).  The columns, indentation, and orientation features are well represented by the symbols that offer a cue on what their appropriate uses areas. It should be noted that affordances do not provide full information about an icon but gives the operator the hint of what to expect, or the use of the particular option is when navigating the gadget. Symbols are useful to use when they can be correctly interpreted (Zhao, Liu, Tang, & Zhu, 2013). Lack of sufficient space to offer full instruction on the function of each feature on the digital gadget means that the design of an icon should give the user the correct implication of what it is supposed to serve (Oliver, 2005) It is this message that will help the operator to have little difficulties in getting the right usage of the device.  Features that have negative affordance are often overlooked, thus not fully utilized. For instance, students find it easier to use digital options that they can quickly identify than those which are difficult to comprehend.  Modern technologies have embraced the use of automated functions, which are achievable by a simple click of the button (McGrenere & Ho, 2000).

References (Throughout the  Series)

  1. Hui, Y. (2012). What is a Digital Object? Metaphilosophy, 43(4), 380-395.
  2. Morrissey, S. M. (2014). “How Can We Know the Dancer from the Dance?” Intention and the Preservation of Digital Objects. New Review of Information Networking, 19(1), 1-15.
  3. Couclelis, H. (2010). Ontologies of geographic information. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 24(12), 1785-1809.
  4. Benoit, G., & Hussey, L. (2011). Repurposing digital objects: Case studies across the publishing industry. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 62(2), 363-374.
  5. Dappert, A., Peyrard, S., Chou, C. H., & Delve, J. (2013). Describing and Preserving Digital Object Environments. New Review of Information Networking, 18(2), 106-173.
  6. Karanasios, S., Thakker, D., Lau, L., Allen, D., Dimitrova, V., & Norman, A. (2013). Making sense of digital traces: An activity theory driven ontological approach. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 64(12), 2452-2467.
  7. Aleida, A. (2008). “Canon and archive,” In: Astrid Erll and AnsgarNünning (editors). Cultural memory studies: An international and interdisciplinary handbook. New York: Walter de Gruyter.
  8. Attila, M. (2009). Digital libraries as information organizations: The re–unfolding of the memory/information paradox, Seventeenth European Conference on Information Systems (Verona, Italy).
  9. Birger, H. (2000). Documents, memory institutions and information science, Journal of Documentation, 56 (1) 27–41.
  10. Claudio, C. (2007). Digital technologies and risk: A critical review, In Ole Hanseth and Claudio Ciborra (editors). Risk, complexity and ICT. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 23–45.
  11. Deanna, M. (2003).Requirements for the future digital library, Journal of Academic Librarianship, 29(5), 276–279.
  12. Fernando, B. (2009). Audience manufacture in historical perspective: From broadcasting to Google, New Media & Society, 11(1), 133–154.
  13. Hamid, E. (2009). Digital artifacts as quasi–objects: Qualification, mediation, and materiality, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(12), 2,554–2,566.
  14. Jan, A. (2008). Communicative and cultural memory, In: Astrid Erll and AnsgarNünning (editors). Cultural memory studies: An international and interdisciplinary handbook. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 109–118.
  15. Jannis, K., & Hans, H. (2009). Work, control and computation: Rethinking the legacy of neo–institutionalism, Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 27, 257–282.
  16. Jannis, K. (2009b). The making of ephemeria: On the shortening life spans of information, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 4,(3), 227–236.
  17. Karen, C. (2008). Managing sameness, Journal of Academic Librarianship, volume 34, number 5, pp. 452–453.
  18. Lawrence, L. (1999) Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.
  19. Lynne, B. (2009). We’re in danger of losing our memories: We have to make sure digital doesn’t mean ephemeral, says the head of the British Library, The Observer (25 January). Retrieved from
  20. Nadine, H. & Dirk L. (2009). What users see — Structures in search engine results pages, Information Sciences, 179(12),1,796–1,812.
  21. Neil, P. and Robin, W. (2009). Software and organizations: The biography of the enterprise–wide system or how SAP conquered the world. New York: Routledge.
  22. Ross, M. (2008).Worst practices in search engine optimization, Communications of the ACM, 51(12), 147–150.
  24. Paskin, N. (2003). Naming and Meaning of Digital Objects. Retrieved from
  25. Thomasson, A. (2007). Ordinary Objects.Oxford University Press.
  26. Gaver W. W (n.a). Technology affordances. Rank Xerox Cambridge EuroPARC. Cambridge.
  27. Li, Q. (2012). Understanding enactivism: a study of affordances and constraints of engaging practicing teachers as digital game designers. Educational Technology Research & Development, 60(5), 785-806.
  28. McGrenere, J. & Ho, W. (2000). Affordances: Clarifying and Evolving a Concept. Proceedings of Graphics Interface 2000, Montreal, May 2000.
  29. Natraj N et al. The visual encoding of tool–object affordances. Neuroscience (2015), http: // neuroscience.2015.09.060.
  30. Norman, A. D. (2008).  Signifier Not Affordances. Nielsen Norman Group and Northwestern University.
  31. Norman, A., D. (1999). Affordance, conventions, and design. The Nielsen Norman Group.
  32. Oliver, M. (2005). The Problem with Affordance. E–Learning, Volume 2, Number 4, 2005.
  33. Oliver, M. (2005). The Problem with Affordance.2 (4), 402.
  34. Ranker, J. (2015). The Affordances of Blogs and Digital Video. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(7), 568-578.
  35. Taipale, S. (2014). The affordances of reading/writing on paper and digitally in Finland. Telematics and Informatics 31 532–542.
  36. Tan, L., Peek, P. F, & Chattaraman, V. (2015). HEI–LO Model: A Grounded Theory Approach to Assess Digital Drawing Tools. Journal of Interior Design 40(1), 41–54.
  37. Uhl, A., & Gollenia, L. A. (2014). Digital enterprise transformation: A business-driven approach to leveraging Innovative IT. Burlington, VT: Gower Publishing.
  38. Verhulsdonck, G., & Limbu, M. (2014). Digital rhetoric and global literacies: Communication modes and digital practices in the networked world. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
  39. Vidal, G. M., Geerts, M., & Feki, M. A. (2013). The Role of Affordances and Interaction Bits in the Design of a New Tangible Programming Interface: A Preliminary Result. Bell Labs Technical Journal (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), 17(4), 157-174.
  40. Yoon, K. (2015). Affordances and negotiations of the digital reputation society: a case study of Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 29(1), 109-120.
  41. Zhao, Y., Liu, J., Tang, J., & Zhu, Q. (2013). Conceptualizing perceived affordances in social media interaction design. Aslib Proceedings, 65(3), 289-303.
  42. Simondon, G. (2011). On the mode of existence of technical objects.Deleuze Studies, 5(3), 407-424.
  43. Verborgh, Ruben, Thomas Steiner, Davy Van Deursen, et al. 2012. Functional descriptions as the bridge between hypermedia APIs and the Semantic Web. Proceedings of the Third International Workshop on RESTful Design. ACM, April 17.
  44. Yves Lafon,Xiaoqian Wu, Art Barstow and Charles McCathieNevile. “W3C WebApps Working Group.” 2008. 20 Sep. 2014, <>.
  45. Hervás R., Bravo J., Fontecha J. A context model based on ontological languages: A proposal for information visualization. J. UCS. 2010;16:1539–1555.
Series Navigation<< The Quest for Defining the Digital ObjectApplying Affordances on Objects on the Digital World >>

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: