Editor’s note: We hope you enjoyed the opportunity to discover – or re-discover – a few of our favorite WaPo Labs blog posts during the past week and a half. Starting today, we are returning to our regularly scheduled programming, beginning with a brand-new UX Principle post from user experience director Michael Ferguson. Without further ado…
Clearly Perceived Affordances
Make it clear what actions a user can take with a system – and what to do to initiate an action.
In the simplest sense, one can think of this as making what’s clickable obvious. It also applies to knowing what’s swipeable, tappable, draggable, etc. Conventions like underlined hypertext and buttons shaded to look three-dimensional aid users to act with confidence. These are cultural products – once established, they help guide users to their goals with little thought. (Knowing how a Web link works has a shorter cultural history than knowing how to depress a button, but the action is just as intuitive.) As users, we learn new affordances with new experiences: for example, a few years ago, the Twitter client Tweetie (later bought by Twitter) featured a “Pull Down To Refresh” input. Now, more and more people expect this option to be available in iOS clients.
Most of the time, in the physical world, it’s obvious how to make something happen – but not always. Don Norman wrote a wonderful book about this called The Design of Everyday Things. He explains why it’s hard for people to map a straight row of range burner icons to a square layout in front of them, and illustrates why we sometimes push a building’s door when it instructs us to pull.
One example of clearly perceived affordances is Service Alley‘s buttons. It would be hard to find a user who didn’t understand what he can do with these buttons, and what would happen next if he clicked on one:
This fall, input experiences via Google TV, Apple TV, XBox 360, PS3, and Wii U will extend the living room’s role as a lab for emerging affordances. At E3 this year, Microsoft announced the launch of SmartGlass, a mobile app to compliment XBox and its motion-sensing Kinect, while Nintendo revealed the tablet-inspired Wii U GamePad for its new console. Google TV and Apple TV will continue to refine gesture and voice controls. All of these companies want us to jump into viewing, gaming, and social experiences with as little learning as possible. Time and market success will surface new conventions.
Later this year, as you’re helping a friend beat Super Mario on the GamePad, or voice-searching to bring up your favorite scenes from The Wire, take note of the affordances that continue to evolve in tandem with new technologies.