Understanding Signifiers and affordances

Today I want to talk about affordances and signifiers and I believe the best way to understand something is with a good example.


Imagine you have a screwdriver. Originally it is used for tightening and loosening up screws but that isn’t the only thing you can use it for. If you use your imagination you can discover lots of new uses for it.You can use it to open a jar or to reach something that is too high.

You can see other interesting screwdriver uses here :

(yes there is a page for that!)



So an affordance is a possibility. Is the relation between an object and its possible actions through an agent


Suppose you are rushing to catch a train. You know the train was scheduled to depart soon. You run across the city, run up the stairs in the train station and rush on to the platform. There is no train: did you miss it, or perhaps has it simply not arrived yet? How can you tell? The state of the platform serves as an signifier. People milling about the platform? The train has not arrived. An empty platform: oops, you missed it. This is an example of an incidental, accidental signifier. It isn’t completely reliable, working better in small towns with only occasional trains than in crowded cities where many trains use the same platforms, but that is the nature of signifiers: often useful, but of mixed reliability.

A signifier is a sign. Some sort of indicator in the physical or social world that can be meaningfully interpreted.
Think about your shower handle.The affordance is clear, you turn it and something happens (water comes out) but how do you know when the water is warm or cold? there is a signifier, a little mark that is red or blue. this little marks are the signifiers. They help you understand how the shower works.




One thought on “Understanding Signifiers and affordances

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s