Research Papers: Design Theory and Methodology

Integrating Function- and Affordance-Based Design Representations

[+] Author and Article Information
Benjamin T. Ciavola

Lifecycle Engineering Laboratory,
Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics,
Michigan Technological University,
1400 Townsend Drive,
Houghton, MI 49931
e-mail: btciavol@mtu.edu

Chunlong Wu

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Zhejiang University,
38 Zheda Road,
Hangzhou 310027, China;
Michigan Technological University,
1400 Townsend Drive,
Houghton, MI 49931
e-mail: wclzju@zju.edu.cn

John K. Gershenson

Lifecycle Engineering Laboratory,
Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics,
Michigan Technological University,
1400 Townsend Drive,
Houghton, MI 49931
e-mail: jkgershe@mtu.edu

Some authors such as Michaels (2003) take an even stronger approach, and argue in favor of a strict type of form dependence for sake of protecting the “true innovation of the affordance concept” which lies in “providing the origins of meaning and an experimental inroad for studying it.” Hence, affordances should only be action opportunities directly perceived by the organism for whom the system afford action and “the perception of affordances for others… ought not qualify as the perception of affordances.”

Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received June 20, 2014; final manuscript received November 25, 2014; published online February 16, 2015. Assoc. Editor: Andy Dong.

J. Mech. Des 137(5), 051101 (May 01, 2015) (10 pages) Paper No: MD-14-1368; doi: 10.1115/1.4029519 History: Received June 20, 2014; Revised November 25, 2014; Online February 16, 2015

In this paper, we explore the possibility of reconciling and integrating practical affordance- and function-based design representations. We present a classic function-based design method and representation and argue for the benefits of augmenting it with affordance-based approaches. Building on existing function concept ontologies, we present an integrated approach to developing early-stage design representations. This approach combines the use of affordance and function representations to capture user needs across a device's life cycle. We demonstrate how affordances add rigor and expressiveness to the early stages of traditional design processes, and how traditional function-based tools provide affordance-based design (ABD) with structured methods for concept generation. The integrated approach is illustrated with an example, in which a use case is explicitly decomposed to demonstrate the structure of relationships between users, goals, actions, artifacts, functions, and affordances.

Copyright © 2015 by ASME
Topics: Design
Your Session has timed out. Please sign back in to continue.


Maier, J. R. A., and Fadel, G. M., 2009, “Affordance Based Design: A Relational Theory for Design,” Res. Eng. Des., 20(1), pp. 13–27. [CrossRef]
Pahl, G., and Beitz, W., 1996, Engineering Design: A Systematic Approach, Springer, London/New York.
Simon, H. A., 1969, The Sciences of the Artificial, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, MA.
Maier, J., 2011, Affordance Based Design: Theoretical Foundations and Practical Applications, VDM Verlag Dr. Muller GmbH & Co, Saarbrucken, Germany.
Van Eck, D., 2010, “On the Conversion of Functional Models: Bridging Differences Between Functional Taxonomies in the Modeling of User Actions,” Res. Eng. Des., 21(2), pp. 99–111. [CrossRef]
Schultz, J., Sen, C., Caldwell, B., Mathieson, J., Summers, J. D., and Mocko, G. M., 2010, “Limitations to Function Structures: A Case Study in Morphing Airfoil Design,” ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences, pp. 405–417.
Vermaas, P. E., 2009, “The Flexible Meaning of Function in Engineering,” The 17th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED’09), Vol. 2, pp. 113–124.
Erden, M. S., Komoto, H., Van Beek, T., D'amelio, V., Echavarria, E., and Tomiyama, T., 2008, “A Review of Function Modeling: Approaches and Applications,” Artif. Intell. Eng. Des. Anal. Manuf., 22(2), pp. 147–169. [CrossRef]
Eckert, C., Alink, T., Ruckpaul, A., and Albers, A., 2011, “Different Notions of Function: Results From an Experiment on the Analysis of an Existing Product,” J. Eng. Des., 22(11–12), pp. 811–837. [CrossRef]
Hirtz, J., Stone, R. B., Mcadams, D. A., Szykman, S., and Wood, K. L., 2002, “A Functional Basis for Engineering Design: Reconciling and Evolving Previous Efforts,” Res. Eng. Des., 13(2), pp. 65–82. [CrossRef]
Gershenson, J. K., Prasad, G. J., and Zhang, Y., 2003, “Product Modularity: Definitions and Benefits,” J. Eng. Des., 14(3), pp. 295–313. [CrossRef]
Khadke, K., and Gershenson, J., 2008, “Technology-Driven Product Platform Development,” Int. J. Prod. Dev., 6(3/4), pp. 353–374. [CrossRef]
Gero, J. S., 1990, “Design Prototypes—A Knowledge Representation Schema for Design,” AI Mag., 11(4), pp. 26–36. [CrossRef]
Kurtoglu, T., and Campbell, M. I., 2006, “A Graph Grammar Based Framework for Automated Concept Generation,” International Design Conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia, pp. 61–68.
Siddique, Z., and Rosen, D. W., 1999, “Product Platform Design: A Graph Grammar Approach,” ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences, Las Vegas, NV, pp. 211–222.
Chakrabarti, A., Shea, K., Stone, R., Cagan, J., Campbell, M., Hernandez, N. V., and Wood, K. L., 2011, “Computer-Based Design Synthesis Research: An Overview,” ASME J. Comput. Inf. Sci. Eng., 11(2), p. 021003. [CrossRef]
Kitamura, Y., Kashiwase, M., Fuse, M., and Mizoguchi, R., 2004, “Deployment of an Ontological Framework of Functional Design Knowledge,” Adv. Eng. Inf., 18(2), pp. 115–127. [CrossRef]
Akao, Y. J., 1990, Quality Function Deployment: Integrating Customer Requirements into Product Design, Productivity Press, Cambridge, MA.
Hauser, J. R., and Clausing, D., 1988, “The House of Quality,” Harv. Bus. Rev., 66(3), pp. 63–73. Available at: https://hbr.org/1988/05/the-house-of-quality
Maier, J. R. A., and Fadel, G. M., 2009, “Affordance-Based Design Methods for Innovative Design, Redesign and Reverse Engineering,” Res. Eng. Des., 20(4), pp. 225–239. [CrossRef]
Maier, J. R. A., Fadel, G. M., and Battisto, D. G., 2009, “An Affordance-Based Approach to Architectural Theory, Design, and Practice,” Des. Stud., 30(4), pp. 393–414. [CrossRef]
Gibson, J. J., 1979, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Norman, D. A., 2002, The Design of Everyday Things, Basic Books, New York.
Koffka, K., 1935, Principles of Gestalt Psychology, International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method, Harcourt Brace, New York.
Cormier, P., Olewnik, A., and Lewis, K., 2014, “Towards A Fomalization of Affordance Modeling for Engineering Design,” Res. Eng. Des.25(3), pp. 259–277. [CrossRef]
Hu, J., and Fadel, G. M., 2012, “Categorizing Affordances for Product Design,” ASME 2012 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, pp. 325–339.
Michaels, C. F., 2003, “Affordances: Four Points of Debate,” Ecol. Psychol., 15(2), pp. 135–148. [CrossRef]
Umeda, Y., and Tomiyama, T., 1995, “FBS Modeling: Modeling Scheme of Function for Conceptual Design,” Proceedings of the 9th International Workshop on Qualitative Reasonin, pp. 271–278.
Brown, D. C., and Blessing, L., 2005, “The Relationship between Function and Affordance,” Proceedings of the 2005 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences, Long Beach, CA, pp. 155–160.
Chandrasekaran, B., and Josephson, J. R., 2000, “Function in Device Representation,” Eng. Comput., 16( 3–4), pp. 162–177. [CrossRef]
Rosenman, M. A., and Gero, J. S., 1998, “Purpose and Function in Design: From the Socio-Cultural to the Techno-Physical,” Des. Stud., 19(2), pp. 161–186. [CrossRef]
Gero, J. S., and Kannengiesser, U., 2004, “The Situated Function–Behaviour–Structure Framework,” Des. Stud., 25(4), pp. 373–391. [CrossRef]
Hughes, J., Kroes, P., and Zwart, S., 2007, “A Semantics for Means-End Relations,” Synthese, 158(2), pp. 207–231. [CrossRef]
Houkes, W., and Vermaas, P. E., 2010, Technical Functions: On the Use and Design of Artifacts, Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, Springer Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Pols, A. J., 2012, “Characterising Affordances: The Descriptions-of-Affordances-Model,” Des. Stud., 33(2), pp. 113–125. [CrossRef]
Crilly, N., 2012, “Function Propagation Through Nested Systems,” Des. Stud., 34(2), pp. 216–242. [CrossRef]
Galvao, A. B., and Sato, K., 2005, “Affordances in Product Architecture: Linking Technical Functions and Users' Tasks,” ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, pp. 143–153. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York.
Shaw, R., Turvey, M. T., and Mace, W., 1982, “Ecological Psychology: The Consequence of a Commitment to Realism,” Cognition and the Symbolic Processes, Vol. 2, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Hillsdale, NJ.
Gaver, William, W., 1991, “Technology Affordances,” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 79–84, ACM.


Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Structure of function representations

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

Generic affordance structure (adapted from Ref. [20])

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 3

The five main design modeling concepts (adapted from Ref. [7])

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 4

Overview of the combined model

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 5

Affordances exist across a product's life-cycle

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 6

Pahl and Beitz's top-level requirements mapped to a simplified set of product life-cycle processes

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 7

Subfunctions are connected by AAAs

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 8

Use cases are defined in terms of a situation in which a user wishes to achieve a goal

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 9

Use plans are described in terms of goals, objects, and actions

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 10

A particular action is performed to achieve a goal, and is decomposed based on the interacting systems, manipulation opportunities, and effect opportunities

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 11

Manipulation and effect opportunities are mapped to function inputs and outputs. AAAs are mapped to function interfaces.

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 12

Low-level design decisions can be evaluated relative to any actions, objects, goals, or users with which they are involved




Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging and repositioning the boxes below.

Related Journal Articles
Related eBook Content
Topic Collections

Sorry! You do not have access to this content. For assistance or to subscribe, please contact us:

  • TELEPHONE: 1-800-843-2763 (Toll-free in the USA)
  • EMAIL: asmedigitalcollection@asme.org
Sign In