It is what gives us hints or clues as to how you would use an object or thing and what it’s used for ("Affordances" par. 1). It allows the user understand how to use it without the help or words or images and it does not leave the user feeling confused ( "Affordances" par. 1). There are 2 types of Affordances: Real Affordances and Perceived Affordances.

Real Affordances:

J.J. Gibson, who originally developed the term ‘affordance’, developed this term. Real affordances are based on action capabilities of the person encountering the object or thing ("Affordances" par. 2). He believes that they are not reliant on culture or former knowledge or expectations on the object or thing ("Affordances" par. 2).

For an example:
A thief who might want to break in through a window The window would have an affordance of ‘climbing through the window’. If you compare it with a toddler, he/she would not have the same capabilities of a thief to climb through a window. The toddler would not be tall enough to climb through the window (Soegaard par. 4)

Perceived Affordances:

This term was Donald Norman’s view of what ‘affordance’ meant (Soegaard par. 1). According to Norman, an affordance was based on perceived and actual properties of the object or thing that helps one understand what the object or thing is used for and how you’d use it ("Affordances" par. 4).

For an example:
Image from Universal Principles of Design

A ball has an affordance of ‘bouncing or tossing’. The physical properities of it’s roundness and it’s actual properties that makes it bouncy suggestions this (Soegaard par. 2)

Another example is a door.
When you see a handle, you assume that you're suppose to pull because the affordance of the handle tells you that you should grab it and pull in order to open the door. Some doors with a handle are meant to be pushed instead and therefore the design of the door fails. To remove that problem, take away the handle to leave a flat panel and you won't need a sign anymore to say "push".

Side note: It would still be funny to see people run into doors due to bad design.


Butler, Lidwell, and Kritina Holden. Universal Principles of Design. Massachusettes: Rockport Publishers, 2003.
"Affordances". 16 Jan 2008 <>
Soegaard, Mads . "Affordances". 16 Jan 2008 <>