One of the first concepts taught to blossoming interaction designers is affordances. At its most basic definition, an affordance is a quality of an object that allows an individual to perform an action. For example, a pot’s handle is an affordance to pick up the pot. It fits conveniently into our hands, and is less hot than the rest of the pot.
Once understood, it’s hard for a curious designer to escape the constant questioning of the world around her. Which objects have affordances? Which ones do not? How far can I stretch the definition?
I was recently admiring the well-executed plans for Stanford’s d.school in an article from Fast Company. After I finished drooling over the notion of having a room entirely covered in whiteboard paint I came across the following item:
The deliberately annoying periodic table is designed to keep people moving. It’s a little too small for four students to use comfortably and a little too high for sitting. “We put students in a slightly uncomfortable position to push them into adapting to slightly uncomfortable behaviors,” says Doorley.
My first thought was that the designer of this table has surely mastered the concept of affordances; the table’s design prevents unfavorable behavior. And then I thought about how great it would be to have a table that forces you to be uncomfortable if you try to sit down! I know I always think more clearly when I’m standing up, marker in hand, ready to act upon a fleeting thought.
One of our first and most important values in the design of Project: Interaction’s curriculum was to make sure every lesson is hands-on. Like the d.school, we don’t think sitting down is the best way to study design. Design is as much about practice and experience as it is about studying and planning. We’ll make sure to have both parts covered, even if it means we have to take away the chairs.