Applying Gibson's Theory of Affordances to Interior Design

By Amanda Kim Zaitchik.

Published by The International Journal of Design in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: October 22, 2015 $US5.00

In ecological psychology, affordance theory is a model of perception in which an organism perceives its environment in terms of what opportunities the environment provides, based on both the features of the environment as well as the qualities and capabilities of the organism. The comprehensive set of affordances between organism and environment becomes that organism’s niche, with a complementarity such that a niche implies a certain organism and an organism implies a certain niche. Applying this theory to interior design will shift the paradigm of designing based on given typologies and precedents to designing based on the root of any project: what the environment needs to provide the user. Using affordances in interior design has the potential to achieve the same co-implication between user and environment. Introduced by psychologist James Gibson in 1977, affordance theory has been utilized in related design fields, including product design and user interface design. Its inherent linking mechanism between subject and object, combined with its scalability from the detailing of an artifact to the systems of a building justify its suitability and richness as a framework for interior design. In the current research, the theory of affordances was applied to existing environments, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Little House living room and the porch outside the New York Public Library. The environments, artifacts, and users were observed and analyzed in terms of the affordances that emerged through each relationship. The affordances were then catalogued and rated according to strength, and the features of the environment, the context, and the qualities and abilities of the user that contributed to each affordance were examined. While this analysis was largely evaluative, a methodology for using affordance theory generatively was also explored. A framework was developed relating the user, desired affordances, and existing conditions to the necessary features of a designed environment that would support such a system. This was supplemented by an affordance-based exploration of materials, in which 16 common materials were charted according to their potential affordances. The results of these studies indicate the relevance of Gibsonian affordances to interior design and offer a new process framework toward designing efficient, user-driven environments.

Keywords: Affordances, Interior Design, Perception

The International Journal of Design in Society, Volume 8, Issue 3-4, 2015, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: October 22, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.024MB)).

Amanda Kim Zaitchik

Designer, Rockwell Group, Brooklyn, New York, USA