Friday, 17 August 2012

The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction… Affordances

O’Neill, S. (2008) Interactive Media: The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction. London: Springer-Verlag.

“Norman separates ‘real’ affordances (the physical properties of the world) from ‘perceived’ affordances (subjective representations in the mind), and is more concerned with the perceptual properties of affordances rather than the actual properties of real objects themselves. (…) The strength of Norman’s version of how perception and affordance work is that it attempts to solve the problem of how to explain the role of knowledge in understanding the world around us. However, the problem with Norman’s version of affordance is that it abandons the unique contribution of Gibson’s ideas in bridging the gap between the object and the subject.” (p51)


Prof. Don Norman classifies different forms of affordances into those that are properties of the physical world (real), and those that are in the mind and are representative and subjective (perceived). It is the perceived affordances that Norman is more interested in and in doing so he distances himself away from Gibson’s original affordance concept. Lately Norman has refined his ideas on affordances now, unfortunately, referring to them as signifiers. In doing so he has moved affordances closer to semiotics but also now muddied the clear separations between the two. Affordances are about communicating potential action while semiotics defines how the visual communication will communicate the call to action. An example could be a water tap. An affordance would communicate how to get water from the tap. Whether the water is hot or cold is communicated through the semiotic signs of red or blue. The outcome of the semiotics isn’t the pouring water, but the communication of the expected temperature. The outcome of the affordance is how the tap is operated to access the pouring water. Both help in the ultimate outcome of accessing water but perform different tasks.

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