UX Design: Types of Affordances in User Interfaces


If you want your product to be easy to use and intuitive, you need to know about affordances, what they are, the different types of affordances, and why you should use them in your user interface (UI) designs.

If you don’t know about affordances in UI design, then this article will tell you what you should know. Using affordances, you can start to design better UI designs that are more usable and   intuitive.

What Is An Affordance In User Interface Design?

An affordance is about the item’s properties in question and how that item can be used. Affordances give hints to people about how an item can be used and interacted with to carry out its function.

There are different affordances, and you can find them in objects that you use every day. You need to give them your attention, and you will realize that you have always been benefiting from affordances in UI and UX.

In user interface design, affordances are used to help a person understand what they need to do and what they can do without having to explain it to them using images or text. Affordances in UI design give people visual hints to make the UI design more intuitive and usable for everyone.

What Are The Different Types Of Affordances That You Can Use

You need to understand the different types of affordances that are used by designers and what makes them different from each other. This is necessary as you will determine what affordances you should use and why you should use them in certain parts of your user interface design.

Hidden Affordances

These affordances are not shown to people until the person performs a specific action. For example, using their mouse and hovering over a button or clicking a dropdown menu displays many other options that the person can relate to.

This type of affordance helps give your product a minimal look as it will hide elements that do not need to be seen until the person wants to see them. While this is useful, it does have its downsides. Some people might not find the hidden elements, so they won’t know they are there, even though they may be interested in what the product has to show.

Explicit Affordances

This type of affordance makes it obvious what a person can do if they interact with the item. For example, buttons that say ‘Login’ or input fields with placeholder or label text tell people what type of information they need to input, such as ‘subject’ in an email.

These affordances should especially be used if your target audience isn’t tech-savvy, as anyone will be able to understand what action they need to take. If there are elements in your user interface that you think will confuse people, you can use explicit affordances to help reduce confusion.

If you want to be creative with your UI design and add non-conventional elements, then using this type of affordance will help people learn how to use your product and the different features. If you decide to do this, then hiring product design firms in San Francisco will help you avoid making common UI design mistakes.

Pattern Affordances

These count patterns make it easier for people to understand what they need to do. Designers use commonly used patterns in their designs, so people don’t need to learn anything new to use the product; they can just use the knowledge they already have—for example, the logo on websites sending the user back to the homepage when it is clicked.

Designers use this affordance to improve the intuitiveness and usability of their user interface designs.

Negative Affordances

This affordance indicates that the user cannot use an element. For example, seeing an input field grayed out so the user cannot input anything into it. This can be used to make sure users don’t accidentally change information or that nothing can be changed until the user clicks on a specific button or link.

These can be used to direct users and tell them what they can and can not do. If a user needs to input information into specific fields before moving on, then graying out other areas is an easy way of communicating that without words.

Metaphorical Affordances

These are icons that are used to tell users what they can do. For example, an icon of an envelope indicating to people that they can email someone else using a particular feature or that an email address is being displayed.

Metaphorical affordances are used to communicate what someone can do without explaining quickly. Since these affordances use real-world items, anyone can easily understand what they can do when using the product.


Affordances are used by designers when creating user interface designs to help users understand what they can do when interacting with specific features the product has. Many different affordances can be used in a UI design to make it more usable and intuitive, and now you know the different types you can use.

If you still need help adding these into your UI designs, you don’t need to do it yourself. You can hire a UX/UI design agency in San Francisco or other experienced designers to guide you.