Affordance theory for engineering design

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© 2016, Springer-Verlag London. Affordance theory shows promise in engineering design, but its adoption has been slow due to uncertainty regarding the relationship between the concepts of function and affordance. Function is a widely accepted foundational concept for design activities, and while affordances have the potential to be a more broadly applicable, little work has been done to show how this new approach can be reconciled with more familiar design modeling practices. In this paper, affordances are shown to provide an alternative means for linking intentional and physical design descriptions across the product life cycle. This approach involves a renewed engagement with the affordance ontology of ecological psychology, which is compared, contrasted, and integrated with function theory. This integrated perspective is used to shine light on the possibilities and limitations of affordance-based design reasoning and to construct a representational hierarchy for use in the design process. This work demonstrates the robustness of the ecological perspective in design scenarios and highlights ways in which function- and affordance-based design processes can be integrated while retaining the strengths of both. The outcome of this integration is a stronger representational and reasoning framework for early-stage design that supports instead of supplants traditional methods of engineering design.

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Research in Engineering Design