I am pretty sure that most of you are quite familiar with the concept of design affordances, originally proposed by Donald Norman and outlined in his widely read book the Design of Everyday Things. Just in case you are not, design affordances are the action possibilities perceived by the user from the design (as mediated by the context). Human factors designers have been using this idea to create effective designs and to evaluate the designs of others to assess their effectiveness.
Today, I want to share a variation on this theme presented by Sebastian Deterding, a true thought leader in the area of motivational design and gamification, called a motivational affordance. We have covered motivation quite extensively here (for example here and here), with a particular emphasis on the power of intrinsic motivation. In the classic formulation of Deci and Ryan, intrinsic motivation can emerge when the user feels that he or she has autonomy to use the design or not, control over how he or she uses the design, and some kind of social interaction related to the use of the design.
Motivation is afforded when the relation between the features of an object and the abilities of a subject allow the subject to experience the satisfaction of suchneeds when interacting with the object. E.g., relative to my skills and knowledge, this Sudoku puzzle in front of me affords an opportunity to experience myself as competent when interacting with it.
Deterding divides a system into two sets of attributes: attributes of the context (the task, the environment, the user) and attributes of the design (the design elements). Each of these can have motivational affordances and they will interact with each other during use of the system. But while the motivations of context attributes have been studied at length, the motivational affordances of design elements have not. But they are just as important.
He proposes that just as design elements have functional affordances, they also have motivational affordances. Does the design element convey to the user that it gives the user autonomy, control, and social interaction in the same immediate and direct way that it conveys its functional attributes? Does it instead convey that it focuses on extrinsic motivation such as points or rewards?
Think about some of the design elements that you use, either in your design work or in some of your favorite products. Do they have motivational affordances? Do they speak to the user, impressing on her that it will give her autonomy, control, social interaction, or tangible rewards? Would small changes to the design improve the motivation that it affords?
Image Credit: Paul Cross