Monday, 28 July 2008


I would just like to note how annoying it is that often I can be perfectly good at analyzing things - breaking ideas down logically, figuring out how machines work, and all that sort of thing. But then when confronted with the simplest objects I will be totally clueless. And it usually has to do with affordances.

I'm talking about the second Wiki definition - an affordance tells you how to use something, basically. If you see a handle, you know to grasp it. If you see a door with a horizontal bar, it's easy to know you should push it in, rather than (say) pulling on it or trying to twist it. One way of telling if something's a good design is by whether it has good affordances - you can tell by looking at it what you should do with it (even if it's totally new). Like the little wheely thing on iPods - circling your finger around it is obvious and makes immediate sense.

Anyway. I have great trouble, it would seem, with objects that lack good affordance. I couldn't make tea in the lab for months because I couldn't seem to turn the electric kettle on. I'm not kidding. I had to text Helena and ask if it was broken. (As my dad would say, "HOW much education does it take?!") In the end it turned out that you have to press the little lever up to turn it on, instead of down like every other kettle I've ever used. Somehow this totally baffled me. Is this how people become absent-minded professors?

And then yesterday I had to get my mate Lola to show me how to lock my back door. It's been unlocked for days because I couldn't figure it out. (Don't worry, my "garden" is about three feet deep, walled on all sides and looks out onto other peoples' gardens, so it would be very difficult to be burgled from that side, even given an unlocked door). Turns out you have to pull the door handle up while turning the key. Why does everyone else seem to know this?! It was a complete surprise to me. Now I'm wondering if I'm just really bad at common household objects and what is an obvious affordance to everyone else in the universe is totally baffling to me. Sigh.

The only solution is to become very rich and employ someone to make the tea and lock up from now on :)


Theresa said...

I'm sad to confess that you must have inherited that trait from me. But I think I'm worse than you, I often can't even do the easy things.

Stuffy said...

... or move back to Canada, where we have proper back door handles and tea kettles with down buttons.

Anne said...

Maybe I will, so there! But making a cup of tea will lose a certain charm. In Wales everyone goes around asking you if you want a "panad". (Corruption of the Welsh for "cuppa", apparently...)