Affordances as perceived action possibilities

Have you ever walked up to a building and looked at the door and not known whether you should push or pull the door to get in? Have you ever pulled on a door only to find out that it was a “push” door?” Have you ever looked at a website or a web application and said to yourself, “Now what?”

An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action. In Donald Norman’s, The Design of Everyday things, Norman put the focus on perceived affordances and as such is much more pertinent to practical User Experience and design problems from a human-factors approach.

If you are designing an interface that features some control that most people may believe performs a particular action, they will try to perform that action using that control. If something looks like a button, people will try to click on it and expect some action.

If it looks like a link, they will click on it and expect to navigate to some other page or site.

If the particular perceived action does not match the expectations of the performer, you will have an unhappy user. Your job, as a User Experience expert, is to understand the mental model of your user and to provide the correct affordances for your users to complete their job.