Wednesday, June 02, 2010

False Affordances

I recently bought a multi-pack of peanuts (20 bags of 100-calorie packs). But one of the packs was overstuffed. The packaging was the same size, but it was bulging. I figured maybe it was spoiled, but when I opened it, it just seemed to have a lot of extra peanuts and a bunch of peanut powder. I thought maybe this was the "bottom of the barrel" but fine to eat. In fact a benefit - I got a 200-calorie pack!!!

I will let you know tomorrow if I get food poisoning :-D. But my purpose today is to wonder about affordances. When you get a product, the various attributes tell you a lot about it - either explicitly through instructions and labels or implicitly through design. In this case, I was wondering if a bulging package indicated spoilage or just an error in the filling process.

This got me thinking about how much of our interaction with everyday products are based on such implicit affordances. Implicit affordances are much more efficient than explicit ones - there is only so much room on the package for labels and we often don't read them anyway. And when we do, we misunderstand them (don't get me started on nutrition labeling!!).

When the affordance is false - i.e. gives us the wrong information - it can have real consequences (from personal injuries to damaging the product, to just general product failure). Like in this case. Would you have eaten the peanuts? They tasted delicious, but I feel my left pinkie going numb!