« Back to Glossary Index


What the environment offers the individual. – Wikipedia

CRO Example

Originally coined by psychologist James Gibson and further expanded on by Don Norman. The design cues embedded within an object that indicate its purpose and how it should be used. In the physical world, this can be a pushbar across a door indicating that the door swings inward. Affordance is implicitly understood and can override explicit context. In the same pushbar example, the user will likely first try to push the door open, even if there are many labels stating “pull”.

Adding visual clues to a design that help a user figure out what something does when they interact with it. Adding a shadow to a button or underlining text to indicate clickability. Sometimes, affordance can have a cultural or memetic context. Amazon discovered that rural shoppers in India were unfamiliar with the concept of a “shopping cart” and mistook the search icon for a ping-pong paddle. There’s the oft-maligned hamburger menu; if you ask the UX community about it, no users actually understand what a hamburger menu does but all those darn web designers keep using it for some reason (spoiler: hamburger menus have become commonplace enough that users probably understand it now but you should maybe still label it just to be sure). No one’s used a floppy disk in like 20 years but it’s still the save icon. Phone headset? Same thing.

Affordance can be taught and absorbed through iteration. 1st generation iPods had a mechanical click-wheel. 2nd generation iPods replaced the mechanical wheel with a touch-sensitive digital wheel. 3rd generation removed the wheel and was just a screen. Apple was training users to recognize affordance cues for touch and swipe actions in an interface, with the ultimate goal of preparing their users for the iPhone.

« Back to Glossary Index