coupling between user action and functional information

March 1, 2007

Today i received a couple of affordance papers from Pirkko Hyvonen from the University of Lapland. She is dealing with collaborative play framework. Thanks a lot!
There is one paper of particular interest about coupling in design research.

What seems interesting in this paper is the coupling idea between actions and tools in which the meaning is created. It seems that the meaning in this paper is rather the intention or the object of the activity. The authors do not mention artifacts, but it may be they do not make a difference .. is iPod an artifact with inherent meanings or the tool for action…
Anyway, again, we are back to the figure which indicates the restrictions of operations. It seems more and more that the three restrictions should be shown some ways with overlapping areas, to indicate their interaction.


What might be of interest is the coupling idea expressed on the figure 5.
We tackle with the same intention to show the partial overlap of action affordances with the tool affordances.
From the action side, our intention might be of making the inherent action-related affordances noticable for the learner or the facilitator. From the tools side we want to make their augmented affordances noticeable. The coupling will be done by eFolio.
However, both, the conceptions of inherent information and the augmented information seem to be a bit false ideas in the sense that they add the affordances directly to actions or tools as objective properties. The activity system where both sides would meet is much better idea.

The natural interaction in social software seems to be the source how coupling is done.
It supports the former idea of the Distributed activity system where three kinds of interactions evoke affordances: RED person-person (who does what, who is who), GREEN interpersonal-tool (performing how), BLUE interpersonal-object (why i/you do something (planning); what i/you did something (feedback)). There are also black arrows between object and tools, meaning that tools should have certain affordances to realise some objects.

This figure is still in the process of changes. For instance i am not sure can the coupling idea be presented there, or is it just a nice term that is relevant to all the arrows?
I also think that maybe in distributed settings not all the arrows should be presented, meaning that some actions what are done are mediated.

distributed activity system

PS! The model is spatial: imagine a rectangular paper folded diagonally. The regulative actions ( less dotted area) fill the space between the two triangular planes opposite to each other, manipulable actions are on the upper triangular plane, communicative object-related interactions are on the lower triangular plane plus on the narrow plane that forms in between planes on the bottom and above.

From Perception to Experience, from Affordances to Irresistibles
Kees (C.J.) Overbeeke
Stephan (S.A.G.) Wensveen

Meaning emerges in action. Meaning is in (inter)action.
Therefore information for action is a crucial issue for interaction design.

The world appears to us as inherently meaningful because we perceive action possibilities, i.e., affordances. Meaning is in the world, directly, not inferred through reasoning.

Gibson’s brilliance was the unity of subject and object, which naturally includes one’s intentions and every action an organism is able to perform, including imagination.

If affordances are about meaning, they are not just about functional meaning; they do not only fit our perceptual-motor skills, but also our emotional and cognitive skills.

Paul Dourish published his book Where the action is. He makes an analysis of interaction design and concludes, on the basis of philosophical and experimental arguments, that the coupling between people’s action and the product’s function creates meaning. We knew that much, but on the basis of what meaning creation should the coupling of action and function be realized?

The first idea is “bridging”. The user needs information to guide his actions towards the intended functionality. How can action and function be coupled to generate this information?
A mechanical product allows for freedom of interaction and here the user’s action and the product’s function are naturally coupled. What is natural? Weveseen identifies six aspects of action and function, i.e., time, location, direction, modality, dynamics and expression. When action and function are unified on and every one of these aspects, they appear naturally coupled.

In contrast, in electronic products action and function often are not unified on these aspects. Whilst this brings many advantages for new functionality (e.g., remote control, programming) it often results in non-natural interaction. To restore natural interaction in electronic products the user needs information to guide his actions towards the intended function. Therefore Wensveen focuses on the creation of information through feedback and feedforward.

coupling between user action and functional information

These different types of information are the elements that can bridge action and function together by realizing couplings on the six aspects.

In many current electronic products the bridges between action and function are realized through the use of augmented information, which results in LCD displays and the lexical labelling of action possibilities. Guiding the user’s action towards the intended function therefore, puts a lot of effort on the user’s cognitive skills.

Another observation of current electronic products is that, while the product functionality does offer differentiations on most of the six aspects, the bridges between action and function are realized mostly through the unification of just two of the six aspects, i.e. time and location which results in the use of appropriately placed buttons.

Still other interaction styles focus on ‘natural interaction’ by making use of gestural and speech interfaces. They exploit the cognitive and perceptual motor
skills of a person. Although rich in action possibilities these interfaces lack inherent feedback and feedforward and completely rely on a tight coupling between action and function on the aspect of time, or on couplings through augmented feedforward.

In contrast to these different interaction styles Wensveen argues for the following tangible approach: Through a combination of enriching the action possibilities which exploit the human repertoire of actions and the inherent feedback based in the richness of the physical world the quality and number of possible meaningful couplings between action and function are increased.

Dourish, P., Where the action is: The foundations of embodied interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.


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