Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Improper affordance

For the non UX (User Experience) professionals out there, affordance is a term from "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman, that speaks to concept of how objects in life seem to speak out to people in terms of how they can be used. e.g.,

  • A door with a protruding handle "affords" a pulling action.
  • An image on the web that looks like a button "affords" pushing (i.e., clicking).
  • A baseball "affords" throwing based on it's size, density and shape along with it's cultural context.
So what?

Who cares?

If you have a facebook account, you care. The current facebook interface affords messaging through the "wall" in such a way that messages meant for private consumption are being written in public places. This is exacerbated by the explosion of facebook to the masses, many of whom are unfamiliar with social networking. People are using facebook to stay in touch with extended family and friends and now the mixing of these groups in a "public" context like the "wall" is becoming quite embarrassing for many users.

Think of the posts that could show up from one of your crazy friends that your mom might see:

"yeeeeeeah boy! did u get any action wit that grrl last night? she waz so drunk and totally HOT!"

Think of the posts that your crazy friend might see:

"I do not like the idea of you prowling around for girls at bars! Go meet a nice Jewish girl at temple. And make sure you wear that nice blue suit I bought you. You look so smart! A real Mensch!."

It would be easy to blame the unfamiliar users with not knowing that facebook has private messaging capabilities, but that would be pointing in the wrong direction. The real problem lies in how facebook is revealing its functionality to its user base. Facebook was designed for college students and technorati - not thier grandparents. And thus we come to the big problem facing UX professionals - How do you design an interface that is at once targeted towards people of many demographics and experience levels without moving the design to the "lowest common denominator".

Many designers lose sleep over this and no clear solution has emerged at this point short of designing multiple or adaptive interfaces which are cost prohbitive. Either way, I still love facebook. It's greatness is showing in an odd way - it is a victim of its own success and many users are feeling the mild pain of being embarrassed within their social circles.


Facebook - like it
Facebook wall/message design - garbage

Peace up. A-Town Down.


furiousBall said...

i act like a jack ass all the time, so when the strippers post stuff on my wall, mom and the co-workers just know that's just vanny being vanny.

Diana said...

The best situation is when your most liberal friend (an Obama campaign worker) introduces herself to your most republican friend (a Republican senator chief of staff) by calling them stupid on your own public wall. And oh by the way, the republican friend is also your brand new Mother-in-law :D

The I'd solution to this problem is easy - make two buttons, one for public and one for priate wall posting. Or just do it Linkedin style - nothing shows on thee until you approve.

Great post!

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