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ABSTRACT................................................................................................................................. 1 INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................................... 1 BACKGROUND SURVEY .............................................................................................................. 2 THE TREE PROJECT ______________________________________________________________ 3 THE TREACHERY OF SANCTUARY _________________________________________________ 6 INTERACTIVE FOREST ____________________________________________________________ 7 CONCLUSION ........................................................................................................................... 7 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................. 8

Reflective report


Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design


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Angie Campbell 42294032 Physical Computing & Interaction Design Studio Reflective Report 14/06/2013

Affordances, constraints and conventions are all methods that have been used to improve user experience, usability and engagement in the past. The term affordance has different meanings to different people and has been used in games design, GUI design and the design of everyday objects before it was even a known term. In the physical design projects The Tree Project, The Treachery of Sanctuary and Interactive Forest, these ideas have been incorporated in differing ways to guide and teach users how to interact and learn about the installations and receive the underlying message. Each one has its own successes and some have areas on which to improve the overall user experience.

When designing a project in the field of interactive smart environments there were many elements that were designed and planned out in order to give the installation meaning, encourage interaction and exploration as well as have an aesthetic appeal to both the people involved with the interaction and those watching on. In order for the interactions and the overall project to be successful however, the users needed to be able to work out how to use these features without elaborate instructions, which would defeat the purpose. The theory of affordances assumes that each object affords, or is for a certain purpose and that there are perceptual clues as to what that purpose is. I have found that in design it can be a way of providing users with the required guidance in order to make an interactive environment or object both easier Angie Campbell 1

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design and more intuitive to use and it can also encourage people to use objects in ways they wouldnt normally. Affordances along with conventions and constraints can change the way people look at what an object affords doing and start looking at new possible uses.

Background Survey
The area of affordances has been discussed by D. Norman (Design of Everyday Things), W. Gaver (Technology Affordances, 1991) and J.J. Gibson (The theory of affordances, 1971) who all agree that when used correctly, affordances can support the experience of simple interactions and use of objects by providing users with a direct link to what action to take whether it be by enabling thought or by aiding in a more physical context such as the type of handle on an entry door. Where they have differing opinions is that Gibson, the man who originally coined the term of affordances, states that affordances are a part of nature and do not necessarily need to be visible or known. Gibsons description of affordances is based mostly on the field of physical affordance or what Norman refers to as real affordance which is about the physical attributes that give the object function and allow its use. A common example used to illustrate physical affordance is a flat, horizontal and rigid surface affords support for an animal. Norman and Gaver, however, are more involved in the area of perceptual affordances where what it is more important is what a user perceives as possible or true. This type of affordance is more of use in the world of design and is therefor a more visual tool. With perceptual affordance it is common to ask, when I first encounter something I have never seen before, how do I know what to do? The answer lies in how you perceive the object and what it can tell you about its uses. A good example illustrating this is the common door. A door with a handle suggests it can be pulled open, while a door with a metal plate suggests it should be pushed. These are things we interpret by the information received from the object and conventions in place from doors we have used previously. Other methods mentioned by Norman used in conjunction with affordances that often guide the user, are constraints and conventions. While affordances give clues to how something is used, constraints will give limitations and show what is not possible. Conventions are learned and govern what is normal or expected behavior such as the right 2 Angie Campbell

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design hand tap of a sink or shower being cold water and the left hot water. This is a convention learned from our years of experience using them. By using the knowledge of these three methods to our advantage in design, it is possible to improve usability of the overall design. How have these ideas been used within the realm of physical computer interaction and has this been a success or should these terms be left to the virtual world and everyday objects? Has affordance been used effectively in these types of projects or could it be done better?


The Tree Project, which was a project developed around the topic of interactive environments, began its development as an interactive subway tunnel that would allow users to interact with the rainforest environment projected around them by touch, sound, movement and social collaboration to deliver the message of how we interfere with the environment around us in negative ways and how refraining from this type of activity would actually give a more pleasant experience for all. After several iterations of the design via body storming, brainstorming and user testing, the tunnel was re-developed into a single tree that would contain many similar interactions on a smaller scale, but would essentially convey the same message. The interactions to be included were lights that were operated by a sensor to sense proximity, a microphone to measure sound volume, which would play sound through speakers accordingly, sensor pads under bean bags that also controlled the lights and an Xbox Kinect Sensor to measure movement and control a projector. One of the most important and also the most challenging aspects of this project was finding ways to make these interactions meaningful and encourage thought while also ensuring that they were simple enough for users to know how to engage with them. On the topic of affordances, Hartson (2003) states that A cognitive affordance is a design feature that helps, aids, supports, facilitates, or enables thinking and/or knowing about something. In order to get users to interact in the desired way, we needed to provide clues as to where and how they could become involved. As the tree had four main ways of receiving input from its surroundings, we needed to encourage thought around these interactions without obviously pointing them out. As Norman says in The Design of Everyday Things, When simple things need pictures, labels or instructions, the design has failed. The interactions needed to be perceptible to people and encourage explorations but Angie Campbell 3

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design not be spelt out in black and white; users needed to know the interactions were there but not exactly what they were. One way that we chose to use the design theory of affordances was to create symbols that would be placed on the floor in the area where interactions were possible. A symbol was created for the ultra-sonic sensor, microphone and Xbox sensor. These symbols were not the traditional symbols that one may expect to see used to represent these areas, as this would make things too obvious. The icons used can be seen below in figure 1.0:

Figure 1 (Ultra-sonic sensor, microphone & Kinect sensor symbols)

As the meaning of these icons was not immediately clear to users, they would then start to explore in that area, which would usually result in them discovering the type of interaction available. These icons served as a strong clue or a guide to get them thinking and to let them know that there was an action there to be performed. Performing incorrect or unexpected actions helped the user to discover how to correctly interact with the object, and became a learning tool within the installation. I observed several users jumping on the symbols or simply standing still on them which indicates the types of symbols used may not have been the most effective, however it did encourage these users to move into the right areas and once one interaction had been discovered, they then learnt and understood the convention that symbols indicated interactions. As with all things, the interactions developed had their own set of constraints that would allow only certain ways of interacting with each area of the tree. The sensors had a certain range that they could sense which meant users quickly worked out where they needed to stand in order to get results and they also learnt what happened when they left the sensors range. The microphone was set to give output to the speakers when it received a certain level of sound, so users kept increasing their volume and types of sounds made in order to get a re4 Angie Campbell

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design sult. Many times this discovery was made by accident by loud laughter or jumping which created sound. Conventions are a good way for a user to gain the required information from their surroundings. When added to affordances and constraints the options available for how to do something are drastically reduced. Conventions allow a user to know what is normal and usual to an object or situation and plays on learned behaviors. Expectations and conventions were something we tried to play with in order to give the element of surprise to people when they interacted with the display. With most interactive displays and installations, the common convention is to approach and play with it. With the tree however, we chose to invert what was expected and actually make some of the interactions happen when you were away from the tree and not directly interacting with it such as the pressure pads under the beanbags. While this was a novel and fun way to play with the interactions it did cause some confusion with users unsure of how the interactions worked until they had spent some time testing them and figuring them out. I do feel that this helped to encourage thought on why the interactions worked the way they did, which in turn got them talking about the project as a whole to discover the deeper message, however when changing what is normal to users, the interactions should have been easier to perceive to allow users to find out how to work them on their own. Even though there were constraints, conventions and affordances in place to assist the user and make the tree easier to use, some users found ways to interact that were unexpected and unknown. When the users clapped loudly near the tree, lights began to change colour or flicker from one colour to the next. This was not something we had tested and was a result of curiosity and exploration on behalf of the user. In this project, there was definitely room for improvement in the way we used these techniques to achieve our usability goals. Sticking closer to conventions with the symbols used to represent our technologies or finding ways to represent the actual movement required to complete the task could have worked better. Considering and testing how users perceived the interactions would work would have ensured we found better ways to encourage and guide users through the interactions better.

Angie Campbell

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design


This interactive art installation depicts three states of being: birth, death and being reborn through three giant canvases that display and transform your shadow as seen in Figure 2. Using a Kinect sensor, this installation is able to let the user become a part of the artwork by controlling what they see and having a visible effect on the display in front of them. The use of a stage in front of the canvas displays encourages the user to walk up to the display, as stages afford standing on, where they then see their own shadow displayed. The convention here is that when seeing this shadow and with no other information on what to do, a person will move around in order to see if it is indeed their own shadow and will begin to see that they are in control of this display. As the user moves, their shadow changes form, depicting the state of being for that particular screen. If the shadow and/or stage had not been present, this installation would have been confusing and possibly just passed by, as it would not have shown any sign that it was interactive or that it was a part of the exhibition at all. The use of convention and affordance has been instrumental to the success of this artwork.

Figure 2 (Treachery of Sanctuary Display Screens)

Angie Campbell

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design

The Interactive Forest is a display placed on a hallway wall of a busy corridor that changes display as users walk by. The fact that hallways afford walking through is the key tool here for ensuring that this display is interacted with in the designed way. As users walk along the hallway as usual, they will see that the display has changed and correlate their actions with the change. When the next person comes along, the display changes again to show information. Seeing that their actions have had a direct effect on the display teaches the user how to interact and encourages further exploration. If this display had been placed on the end wall of a hallway or in a small room, users would not have figured out how to use it so easily and may have become confused or lost interest. The knowledge of how users use something and what they expect has assisted in how to design this display in a way that uses convention and expectations of users to ensure success. One area of improvement this installation could use is the fact that the user who receives the second change which is pop up boxes of information, may not correlate that they need to walk past twice in order to see this information. They may be the first person to walk passed next time and be unsure as to how to see the information again.

Affordances, constraints and conventions are import tools in designing easy to use systems, environments and objects, and can make or break the success of an interactive display. They help to refine the possible uses and guide users to the correct way to do a task or use an object when they are used well. Simple tasks should not need instructions and should be somewhat intuitive for a user based on learned conventions and what is visible to them in the environment both by perceived and actual affordances. For physical design and interaction, these methods appear to be paramount and can significantly improve the experience, but could also cause great error if they do not correlate well with users conventions.

Angie Campbell

Affordances, Constraints & Conventions in Physical Computing Design

Norman, D. (1990). The Design of Everyday Things, New York: Doubleday. Hartson, H. Rex, (2003). Cognitive, physical, sensory, and functional affordances in interaction design. Behaviour and Information Technology, 22(5), 315-338. Retrieved from,%20as%20appeared.pdf Gaver, W. (1991). Technology Affordances. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 79-84. doi: 10.1145/108844.108856

Angie Campbell