Adrian McEwen, quoting from Donald Norman's classic, The Design of Every Day Things:
Affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things. Plates are for pushing. Knobs are for turning. Slots are for inserting things into. Balls are for throwing or bouncing. When affordances are taken advantage of, the user knows what to do just by looking: no picture, label, or instruction is required. Complex things may require explanation, but simple things should not. When simple things need pictures, labels, or instructions, the design has failed.
Adrian goes on to draw parallels to the design of internet-connected devices:
As adoption of the Internet of Things gathers pace, more and more of our cities, homes and environment will become suffused with technology. With these additional behaviours and capabilities will come additional complexity - something that successful designers of connected devices and services will need to counter.
By their very nature, many of the new capabilities bestowed upon objects will be hidden from sight or not immediately apparent from first glance, which makes intuitive design difficult. What are the affordances of digitally-enhanced objects?
How do we convey to the user of an object that it can communicate with the cloud? Or that this device is capable of short-range comminication such as RFID? What does it mean that a toy knows what the temperature is, or when it is shaken? How do you know if your local bus shelter is watching you or, possibly more importantly, why?
This idea of applying affordances to the design of internet-connected devices is a useful concept, especially when thinking of how to apply internet-connected affordances without violating existing physical ones.
Mark Benson is Vice President of Engineering at SmartThings, a technology company based in Mountain View, CA and a wholly owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics. Mark is a regular speaker and writer on the intersection of technology, business, and society as it relates to product development, technology leadership, strategic planning and execution, intellectual property portfolio management, software architecture, information security, competitive positioning, and organizational behavior.