About the research group

The term 'affordances', originally coined by Gibson (1977) and later appropriated by Norman (1988, 2004), describes the properties of an object which determine how it can be used. For example, a physical book 'affords' sequential reading, fast random access, annotations, and various other uses. It does not afford several other uses, such as full-text search, concurrent multi-user access, or fast copy and paste. With the ongoing digitisation of physical media, books, files, folders, music records, and many other specialised storage media are being replaced by digital counterparts. This impacts how users interact with information and media, how organizations handle document workflows, and how people notice and discover information.

Digitisation of artifacts, documents, and workflows frees them of physical limitations but also strips away the inherent affordances of physical media. While physical objects inherently have certain affordances, digital documents (respectively, their user interfaces) do not automatically possess affordances. Instead, developers have to design and implement all intended affordances and provide 'signifiers' that indicate to the user which options are available for interacting with the document. Therefore, digital tools and media usually have a different and much more limited set of affordances than their physical counterparts, This way, digitalisation limits human expressiveness by default.

Despite the obvious advantages of digitalisation, we might be losing something by thoughtlessly discarding physical media - and should try to retain some of their affordances in our brave new digital world.

The core question the group investigates is:

How can we use physical affordances to improve digital workflows, and how can we sensibly introduce digital tools into physical workflows

From 2017 too 2022 the group was funded as a junior research group by the Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts. The junior research groups were coordinated by the Centre Digitisation.Bavaria (ZD.B) from 2017 to 2020 and later by the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt).