Second-order Affordances: Design & Quantum Superposition

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A few years ago, having read a thought-provoking article by Csongor Bartus I wrote about design & quantum superposition. The main idea behind this article, and my interpretation, is that – similar to a particle, which exists in a state of quantum superposition – a design doesn’t exist by itself but can only ever be realised in a given context and at a specific moment through observation by a user and possibly a device that design is observed with.

The gist, in my own words at the time, is this:

Instead of mandating a definite layout, UX and look-and-feel that’s the same for everyone, everywhere and every time regardless of context or device they’re viewing the content with, this outlook rather views design as a process that ‘merely’ defines the constraints information (such as content on a website) lives within.


In a way designing in this sense means providing second-order affordances that enable the particular design to be put to use.

From this point of view, defined by and existing within constraints, a design affords the ability to be realised by a device and a user at a given context.

About the author: Bjoern
Independent IT consultant, entrepreneur

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