interaction-centered view to affordances

March 16, 2007

When searching the del.icio.us affordance tags I found two papers of supporting interaction centered view to affordances.
The authors point to the relatonship between interaction with artifacts and the semiotics. Bringing in semiosis when interpreting the use of artifacts the dynamic changes in affordances become more clear.
The distinction between artifact level and practice level affordances is interesting especially from the point of view of my idea about the affordances of activity systems.

Broadening Affordances
Dhaval Vyas
Cristina M. Chisalita
Gerrit C. van der Veer

Affordance in Interaction
Dhaval Vyas
Cristina M. Chisalita
Gerrit C. van der Veer

From the interaction-centered view affordances of an artifact are the possibilities for, both, thinking and doing, that are signified by its users during their actual interaction with the artifact. Users actively participate in the interaction with the artifact, continuously interpret the situation, and construct or re-build meanings about the artifact.

How users signify and use the systems is changing.

During the technology use, users continuously interpret and reconstruct the meanings related to the technology, which makes it difficult to understand the phenomenon behind affordances. Clearly, none of the current notions on affordance address this cultural and social shift.

An interactionist would describe affordance as the actively interpreted emergent property of ‘a’ user’s interaction with the technology. The two issues that we want to address using our interaction-centric notion of affordance are: the focus on users’ active involvement with the technology; and consideration of users’ social and cultural contexts.

Affordance is not a property of an environment but it is better thought of as the common ground between the user and his environment.

Factors affecting the emergence of affordances:
Technological conditions
Cultural conditions
Power conditions
Interpretive conditions (knowledge, attitude)

Affordances are the mediator as well as the product of human actions. Affordance is a mediator in the sense that it offers, and at the same time constrains, action possibilities and opportunities to use the properties of a technology that are inscribed by designers. On the other hand, it is a social product of human actions, as through practices users develop new understanding of what the technology is and how to use it.

We attempt to differentiate the affordances that are constructed at individual levels and at the group levels.
We believe that the notion of affordance should be treated at two levels: artefact level (focusing on design elements of the technology) and practice level (focusing on the socio-cultural context in which the technology is used).
This broader view of affordance is useful when we discuss affordances in relation to the use of technology by a group of users. The implications of such a view is that we can use aspects of context (culture of the group/organization, power, users’ knowledge and meanings related to technology and technology properties: cultural-symbolic and material) in which technologies-in-practice emerge in order to understand what the technology affords for its users, how and why this affordance was generated and what implications such an affordance has on working practices and technology use.

The artefact level view for affordances can be useful at the early design stage of an interactive technology where designers are focused merely on defining the form, function and dialogue.

The affordance at practice level helped us refine the category of affordance in information, not only with functionality based meanings but also with symbolic meanings (Chisalita, 2006).
These symbolic meanings describe what the system is within a certain context.

Chisalita, C., M. (2006). Contextual issues in the design and use of technology in organizations. Ph.D. Thesis. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


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