Function, Affordance, and the "How to"

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Enjoy yourself with the find five errors game... (I do know they are there!)


...or use it for inspiration to search information on theories on function, affordances, and use.


For a full list of references or more specific suggestions on what to read, contact me on twitter @cphcharli.




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  • Not how to do technical writing No practical usability tipsNot entirely up to date
  • Eco “Funktionen og tegnet” 1998/La struttura assente 1968
  • Engholm og Michelsen 1999 Designmaskinen / Engholm og Riis 2001Vitruvius - De architectura - firmitas, utilitas, venustas –solid, useful, beautiful. Vitruvian virtues or the Vitruvian Triad
  • Engholm og Michelsen 1999 Designmaskinen / Engholm og Riis 2001Vitruvius - De architectura - firmitas, utilitas, venustas –solid, useful, beautiful. Vitruvian virtues or the Vitruvian Triad
  • WHAT IS IT FOR?opgave eller aktivitet som nogen eller noget har til formål at udføre, ofte som led i en større sammenhæng
  • HOW DOES IT WORK?måde som noget virker eller arbejder på, fx teknisk eller kemisk
  • WHAT CAN IT HELP ME DO?mulighed for at udføre en bestemt handling under brug af en maskine, afvikling af et edb-program el.lign.
  • You copy - Xerox
  • Open to see if paper is jammed. Change toner
  • Open to see if paper is jammed. Change toner
  • Knowledge of principles behind – beyond simple repair.
  • Standard= designer’s function (socially accepted, Hansson 2006)Stol til at
  • The object that doesn’t do what it is supposed to
  • A useful thing you cannot use because something else is lacking
  • Pensioner time – precision, skills, needs of the user
  • History of the design – originally intended purpose, development process, production, previous use
  • Intention of the one thinking of function – why you think about an object’s function. User, buying a gift, etc.Viewpoint.
  • The artifact, surroundings, and interactingagent (typically the user)
  • Actions in the relevant situation.
  • We get clues about real, actual possible interactions.
  • What we see as possibilities of interaction – but what are really signals – like icons on a desktop
  • What we see as possibilities of interaction – but what are really signals – like icons on a desktop. You get feedback – though not a directly physical one, like you would If you tried to walk into a chair.
  • What we see as possibilities of interaction – but what are really signals – like icons on a desktop. You get feedback – though not a directly physical one, like you would If you tried to walk into a chair.
  • What we see as possibilities of interaction – but what are really signals – like icons on a desktop. You get feedback – though not a directly physical one, like you would If you tried to walk into a chair.
  • What we see as possibilities of interaction – but what are really signals – like icons on a desktop. You get feedback – though not a directly physical one, like you would If you tried to walk into a chair.
  • What we see as possibilities of interaction – but what are really signals – like icons on a desktop. You get feedback – though not a directly physical one, like you would If you tried to walk into a chair.
  • Keyhole is easy to recognize – but the fact that the key has to be turned is harder and requires knowledge on convention.
  • Keyhole is easy to recognize – but the fact that the key has to be turned is harder and requires knowledge on convention.
  • Keyhole is easy to recognize – but the fact that the key has to be turned is harder and requires knowledge on convention.
  • Keyhole is easy to recognize – but the fact that the key has to be turned is harder and requires knowledge on convention.
  • Function, Affordance, and the "How to"

    1. 1. Function,Affordance,and the “How to”
    2. 2. Disclaimer!
    3. 3. Agenda
    4. 4. Agenda• Who am I
    5. 5. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function
    6. 6. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function• Does it have to be useful?
    7. 7. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function• Does it have to be useful?• The context of use
    8. 8. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function• Does it have to be useful?• The context of use• Not 1:1
    9. 9. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function• Does it have to be useful?• The context of use• Not 1:1• Ascribing functions
    10. 10. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function• Does it have to be useful?• The context of use• Not 1:1• Ascribing functions• Affordances and other clues
    11. 11. Agenda• Who am I• The unambiguous function• Does it have to be useful?• The context of use• Not 1:1• Ascribing functions• Affordances and other clues• The “How to”
    12. 12. Who am I Charlotte Branth Claussen • Wannabe Techwriter • Technical Writer at Oticon • BA in Art History • MA in Cognitive Semiotics
    13. 13. The unambiguous function
    14. 14. The unambiguous function
    15. 15. The unambiguous function
    16. 16. The unambiguous function
    17. 17. The unambiguous function
    18. 18. The unambiguous function
    19. 19. The unambiguous function
    20. 20. The unambiguous function“…a piece of furniture with many familymembers gathered in one piece. Here is thesofa, the coffee table, the floor lamp and thebookcase in one, coherent form.” (Stelzner 2005)
    21. 21. The unambiguous function“Hence, the function becomes less clear, but inreturn Hammerstrøm’s piece of furnitureactivates a reflection of furniture design’straditional anchor point, the function.” (Stelzner 2005)
    22. 22. The unambiguous function“In this way, it is no longer the primary function,Hammerstrøm designs, but on the contrary amodernistic, one-sided function, shechallenges.” (Stelzner 2005)
    23. 23. The unambiguous function“…discusses design as an autonomous unity, butstill keeps a certain functionality – just anothertype than the functionalistic function.” (Stelzner 2005)
    24. 24. The unambiguous function“While the modernist design has a clear, explicitfunctionality, the radical contemporary designchallenges and discusses the modernisticnaturalized functionality.” (Stelzner 2005)
    25. 25. The unambiguous function
    26. 26. The unambiguous function“It is a chair that radiates the epitome offunction. The form itself becomes the chair’sdecoration so that its symbolic values willabsolutely not overshadow its primaryfunction…” (Stelzner 2005)
    27. 27. The unambiguous function“I wanted to show the kinship of different piecesof furniture. For instance, you don’t need to betold that when you buy a floor lamp, it has tostand next to the armchair. You also know whereto put the coffee table. It is not something youneed to learn. Habits and tradition tell us how isshould be”. (Hammerstrøm 2005)
    28. 28. The unambiguous function“I wanted to show the kinship of different piecesof furniture. For instance, you don’t need to betold that when you buy a floor lamp, it has tostand next to the armchair. You also know whereto put the coffee table. It is not something youneed to learn. Habits and tradition tell us how isshould be”. (Hammerstrøm 2005)
    29. 29. The unambiguous function“I wanted to show the kinship of different piecesof furniture. For instance, you don’t need to betold that when you buy a floor lamp, it has tostand next to the armchair. You also know whereto put the coffee table. It is not something youneed to learn. Habits and tradition tell us how isshould be”. (Hammerstrøm 2005)
    30. 30. The unambiguous function“I wanted to show the kinship of different piecesof furniture. For instance, you don’t need to betold that when you buy a floor lamp, it has tostand next to the armchair. You also know whereto put the coffee table. It is not something youneed to learn. Habits and tradition tell us how isshould be”. (Hammerstrøm 2005)
    31. 31. The unambiguous function primary functions vs secondary functions
    32. 32. The unambiguous function primary functions inner dimensions vs vs secondary functions outer dimensions
    33. 33. The unambiguous function primary functions inner dimensions vs vs secondary functions outer dimensions
    34. 34. The unambiguous functionPrimary function:
    35. 35. The unambiguous functionPrimary function:• Purpose
    36. 36. The unambiguous functionPrimary function:• Purpose• Mode of operation
    37. 37. The unambiguous functionPrimary function:• Purpose• Mode of operation• Possibility
    38. 38. The unambiguous function
    39. 39. The context of use
    40. 40. Not 1:1Layered semantics:
    41. 41. Not 1:1Layered semantics:• Normal use
    42. 42. Not 1:1Layered semantics:• Normal use• Problem solving
    43. 43. Not 1:1Layered semantics:• Normal use• Problem solving• Repairs
    44. 44. Not 1:1Layered semantics:• Normal use• Problem solving• Repairs• Deeper knowledge
    45. 45. Not 1:1 Standard function vs Ad hoc function
    46. 46. Does it have to be useful?
    47. 47. Does it have to be useful?
    48. 48. Does it have to be useful?
    49. 49. Ascribing functionsThe HIPE theory of function:
    50. 50. Ascribing functionsThe HIPE theory of function:• History
    51. 51. Ascribing functionsThe HIPE theory of function:• History• Intentional perspective
    52. 52. Ascribing functionsThe HIPE theory of function:• History• Intentional perspective• Physical environment
    53. 53. Ascribing functionsThe HIPE theory of function:• History• Intentional perspective• Physical environment• Event Sequences
    54. 54. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:
    55. 55. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:• We believe that the artifact has the physical capacity to perform the function in order to complete a use plan
    56. 56. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:• We believe that the artifact has the physical capacity to perform the function in order to complete a use plan• We can justify our belief
    57. 57. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:• We believe that the artefact has the physical capacity to perform the function in order to complete a use plan• We can justify our belief• A designer has developed the use plan and selected the artifact for its capacity
    58. 58. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:• We believe that the artifact has the physical capacity to perform the function in order to complete a use plan• We can justify our belief• A designer has developed the use plan and selected the artifact for its capacity• The designer has passed on the use plan
    59. 59. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:• We believe that the artifact has the physical capacity to perform the function in order to complete a use plan• We can justify our belief• A designer has developed the use plan and selected the artifact for its capacity• The designer has passed on the use plan
    60. 60. Ascribing functionsA function can be ascribed if:• We believe that the artifact has ought to have the physical capacity to perform the function in order to complete a use plan• We can justify our belief• A designer has developed the use plan and selected the artifact for its capacity• The designer has passed on the use plan
    61. 61. Affordances and other clues
    62. 62. Affordances and other clues”…the affordances of the environment are whatit offers the animal, what it provides orfurnishes, either for good or ill …" (Gibson 1977 )
    63. 63. Affordances and other clues”…the affordances of the environment are whatit offers the animal, what it provides orfurnishes, either for good or ill …" (Gibson 1977 )
    64. 64. Affordances and other clues”…the affordances of the environment are whatit offers the animal, what it provides orfurnishes, either for good or ill …" (Gibson 1977 )
    65. 65. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances
    66. 66. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances
    67. 67. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances• Hidden affordances
    68. 68. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances• Hidden affordances• Empty (false) affordances
    69. 69. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances• Hidden affordances• Empty (false) affordances• Correct rejections
    70. 70. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances• Hidden affordances• Empty (false) affordances• Correct rejections• Conventions
    71. 71. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances• Hidden affordances• Empty (false) affordances• Correct rejections• Conventions• Canonical affordances
    72. 72. Affordances and other clues• Real affordances• Perceived affordances• Hidden affordances• Empty (false) affordances• Correct rejections• Conventions• Canonical affordances• Sequential affordances
    73. 73. Affordances and other clues
    74. 74. Affordances and other clues
    75. 75. Affordances and other clues
    76. 76. The “How to”"For designers it most probably is important tounderstand artefacts in terms of functions: indesign methodology, for instance, designing isoften defined as a process that starts withspecific required functions and that ends with aphysical description of an artefact that canperform these functions.” (Vermaas and Houkes 2006:32-33)
    77. 77. The “How to”"For designers it most probably is important tounderstand artefacts in terms of functions: indesign methodology, for instance, designing isoften defined as a process that starts withspecific required functions and that ends with aphysical description of an artefact that canperform these functions.” (Vermaas and Houkes 2006:32-33)
    78. 78. The “How to”"For designers it most probably is important tounderstand artefacts in terms of functions: indesign methodology, for instance, designing isoften defined as a process that starts withspecific required functions and that ends with aphysical description of an artefact that canperform these functions.” (Vermaas and Houkes 2006:32-33)
    79. 79. The “How to”"But for users this understanding may beunnecessarily full. Users may take artefactssimply as means for attaining desired ends,without making the additional step ofexpressing this as that artefact have functions." (Vermaas and Houkes 2006:33)
    80. 80. The “How to”"But for users this understanding may beunnecessarily full. Users may take artefactssimply as means for attaining desired ends,without making the additional step ofexpressing this as that artefact have functions." (Vermaas and Houkes 2006:33)
    81. 81. The “How to”Interaction with an object or an application:
    82. 82. The “How to”Interaction with an object or an application:• What is our goal in a given situation?
    83. 83. The “How to”Interaction with an object or an application:• What is our goal in a given situation?• Are we confident that we get the clues right?
    84. 84. Thoughts?

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