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The Affordance of Absence

[+] Author Affiliations
Jayesh Srivastava, L. H. Shu

University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Paper No. DETC2014-35285, pp. V007T07A029; 9 pages
  • ASME 2014 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 7: 2nd Biennial International Conference on Dynamics for Design; 26th International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology
  • Buffalo, New York, USA, August 17–20, 2014
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4640-7
  • Copyright © 2014 by ASME


We originally studied affordances to design products that encourage resource-efficient behavior in users. This paper was motivated by the observation that a lack of resources affected the ability of impoverished slum residents to perceive affordances. Data gathered from a trip to Bangladesh support recent postulations that affordance perception depends on user intention and socio-cultural norms, which are also influenced by fixation and training. We thus became interested in how absence, whether of material, components, or entire products, affected the utility of objects. We describe three dimensions of absence, one major and two minor. The major dimension is used to express the range of physical absence, i.e., of material in a part, of a part in a product, and of the entire product. Minor dimensions include the extent of user control and the permanence of absence, each of which can be used to increase utility in objects. We provide existing examples along these dimensions and describe concepts along the major, physical dimension of absence. We propose that the affordance of absence can be used as an approach to identify novel affordances, and conclude by placing it in the context of existing affordance-based design methods.

Copyright © 2014 by ASME



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