Making things simpler with affordances and conventions

It seems that simplicity is a popular theme this year. It’s certainly a keyword, or maybe buzzword, that makes me want to go check out an article. This time, the UX Booth newsletter posted an article by Jenny Reeves titled “Making Simple Ideas Simpler,” which their summary statement says will help us “find the path to simplicity.”

This path involves including affordances and conventions to our content strategy, information architecture, or interaction design. She speaks specifically of interaction design in apps, but I think it can apply to web site design, and ultimately content design as well. She pulls the ideas or definitions for affordances and conventions from two great researchers (Krug for conventions and Norman for affordances).

A convention is a design element that users have already encountered or that is so ubiquitous that it is a standard design element that users expect to see. She gives “the hamburger icon” as an example for menus. I think I know what icon she is referring to, but I would have appreciated a screen grab to show it to me (instead she linked off to another great article about icons, but still no picture of the hamburger icon).

An affordance is a design element that “‘make sense’ to users because they remind them of objects they use in daily life.” She gives the example of the magnifying glass icon as an example of a search capability. Often, affordances will become conventions, if they resonate with enough users that it is used more ubiquitously.

She says that the path to simplifying a user experience includes replacing affordances with conventions, and including affordances for other areas of the design. I agree that simplicity can easily come from applying conventions, especially conventions that are based on affordances, that draw from our users own models of their world.

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