- call to action buttons;
- web form fields;
Physical affordancePhysical affordance is based on an object’s physical appearance. Visually, this type of affordance makes instantly clear to a user what action is expected of him in a design’s interface. These are the most straightforward of affordances, and you’ve likely encountered them many times without even knowing what they were called. The whole point with physical affordances is that anyone ought to be able to guess what action they can perform just by looking at the affordances, especially those people who don’t have much experience browsing websites. That’s why physical affordances have to be pretty blatant. Peapod, the home grocery delivery service, uses physical affordances on its homepage. Two huge call to action buttons feature rounded corners and slight shading so they look clickable.
Language affordanceA language affordance is another very straightforward kind of affordance. Essentially, it directly communicates to the user that a button or a field affords a specific kind of action. This leaves absolutely no room to the imagination as to what the intended action is, also making this affordance perfect for people with very little, or even no, site browsing experience. Language affordance is ideal in interface design when mere, visual communication is insufficient to effectively symbolize what action should be performed. For instance, people who haven’t seen many websites are likely not familiar with the magnifying glass symbol indicating “search” at the end of a search field. Smart designers will understand this and therefore supply an explicit, language affordance to leave no doubt what the action should be. Nanamee.com uses language affordance in the search field because there’s a hard-to-miss “Search Images” spelled out. This affordance makes it explicitly clear how to interact with this feature, and is far clearer than simply “Search” or even just an icon.
Pattern affordancePattern affordance is perhaps more common in web design than even the aforementioned, explicit affordances. That’s because, as the name implies, designers of all stripes utilize these affordances in their designs without so much as a second thought. Users are able to recognize and understand these types of affordances due to their commonality. Here are some examples of widely used pattern affordances:
- navigation menu or bar;
- magnifying glass icon;
- downward arrow next to word or phrase.
Symbolic or iconic affordanceThe affordance in an interface can be communicated simply through a symbol or icon. Sometimes called metaphorical affordances, these affordances rely on real-life, physical objects as icons to quickly tell users what action is expected of them. They work well in many, different instances, some of which you’re undoubtedly familiar with already:
- an envelope to afford sending an email;
- a house to afford going back to a site’s homepage;
- a social media button to take you to a social media stream or channel.
Affordances are the key to great UXUnderstanding what an affordance is — as well as the specific uniqueness between one type and another — can really distinguish you from other web designers. Think of affordances as the gateway to communication for your users. Without them, even the nicest-looking design would be totally useless because users wouldn’t be able to make sense of it one bit! Since the user experience is the highest priority for designers, making sure you have a solid understanding of affordances is essential. When your design’s done, it should be affordances that easily and effective empower users to use your design with the least friction possible.
Marc’s a copywriter who covers design news for Web Designer Depot. Find out more about him at thegloriouscompanyltd.com.
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