Introduction: Gibson and Affordances
James Gibson, an American psychologist, was interested in good design. He proposed an idea called affordances. Affordances define what something is and do. For example, balls afford us the ability to bounce them, chairs afford us to sit, glass affords us to see through it or break it. In simple terms, affordances are the essence of something and they do not change. A ball is made to bounce even if no one bounces it. How do affordances relate to good design?
In general, good design guides intuition. Balls are an example of good design. People don’t need to read instructions to play with a ball. Even young children know to throw, kick, or bounce a ball when they pick it up.
I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.Anne Frank, German-born diarist and Jewish victim of the Holocaust.
Affordances and Visual Design
Logos are a large part of the visual design. Consider Nike’s Swoosh. We know it means, “Just Do it” when we see the Swoosh. Whether we do it or not, does not matter, that’s what the Swoosh stands for. It affords motivation and commitment to athletes worldwide. Therefore, we deduce that people understand a well-designed logo despite cultural and societal differences.
On the other hand, take Swastika. Nazi Germany and Hinduism used it as a logo representing their beliefs. The swastika is a Sanskrit word that means “good fortune” and Hinduism used it as a symbol of auspiciousness before the Nazis. Yet, Nazis used the Swastika to represent the struggle for the victory of Aryan mankind. This is clear evidence that visual design renews reality. The power of a logo lives in the users and how they perceive it. Furthermore, visual designers have the tools to renew our reality.
Brain chemistry explains how these long-lasting, far-reaching impressions occur. Brain chemistry is the sum of chemical messaging that takes place in the brain. Each day the brain receives millions of messages to carry out its daily functions, such as movement, speaking, thinking, listening, regulating the systems of the body, and countless others. Information is stored and updated at molecular levels in our brains. The Nazis use of the Swastika is a major information update in the brain.
All things considered, visual design makes or breaks how we view our world and creates our reality. The good visual design affords us the ability to renew ourselves and evolve. With each new brand, a new logo, a new website, we are new. What do you want your brand to afford?