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Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg

egg

"What are the affordances of an egg?"

gus, coming from his HCI background, asked this question after I couldn't help bringing up the Seven-Foot Art Egg (note: this post won't make any sense unless you read my original Art Egg Post).

It's such a great way to frame the Giant Egg that I can't resist carrying out an analysis. After all, if it is going to be "subject to other thoughts/acts of violence typically inflicted on seven-foot tall egg sculptures," perhaps the psychology of industrial design can shed some light on what fate(s) await Egg II (Egg I died glass-bubbly in a warehouse fire).

A popular discussion of affordances is in Don Norman's book, The Design/Psychology of Everyday Things, which serves as a bible for companies like TiVo attempting to do consumer-oriented product design. As Don Norman defines it, affordance "refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used." For example, "plates are for pushing," and "knobs are for turning."

Drawing from Palo Alto Daily News quotes, Don Norman, and my own pompous assertions, here is my list of "The Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg":

Cracking/breaking

The most common usage of an egg is, of course, cracking it open to access the contents inside. One of the acts of vandalism the PADN noted was teenagers ramming a shopping cart into the Egg, and I personally witnessed a passerby adjust his path through the plaza so that he could deliver a swift kick.

This leads us to the next affordance:

Containing (corollary to cracking/breaking)

Whether it be eggs we eat or the plastic easter eggs with their candy surprises, eggs contain stuff we want. This is a Giant Egg, so one must assume that the affordance of a Seven-Foot Tall Egg is that it contains something really good -- it's big enough to give birth to full-sized Shaq. Symbolically the Egg is supposed to contain Silicon Valley innovation, but the crowd quotes from the PADN were more mundane.

Grace, a registered nurse in San Jose, said "It's very ornate, like a time capsule -- somthing I want to open up and see if there's anything in there. It makes people think."

Another person quoted in the PADN noted the possible technological influence of the Egg on its contents:

"I like the shape, it's pretty cool," Geo said. "I wonder if there is a baby computer inside?"

$10,000 seems like quite a lot to hatch a computer -- I'm hoping for something more grandiose that still harnesses the technological potential, something representing the role of US government and Asian investment in the Silicon Valley, something like... MechaGodzilla.

The 1993 (from Heisei series) Super MechaGodzilla was designed by a joint American- Japanese project under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Godzilla CounterMeasures Center (UNGCC) to defend the world from Godzilla.

Rocking/Tipping/Rolling/Spinning

Admittedly, the role of eggs as food means that we don't too often play with it, but rolling as an affordance of eggs is strong enough to make it into an Easter tradition: Egg Rolls. An egg's oblong shape allows for other variations on rolling, including rocking, tipping, and spinning.

The PADN provides a supporting quote from the resident teenage contingent:

"[the Egg] begs to be rolled down the street" and "rocked from its base."

Even a administrative associate at Stanford Medical Center couldn't help mixing compliments and a test of its defenses:

[The administrative associate] caught sight of the egg after getting off work from Stanford Medical Center. "It's unique. It's very well put together," he said, while trying to rock the egg.

Writing

Norman, in discussing graffiti on British Rail platforms, notes that "Flat, porous, smooth surfaces are for writing on." While the archetypal egg is porous and smooth, it doesn't provide that much flat writing surface. However, a Seven-Foot Tall Egg is a whole new species of egg, and the artist has conveniently coated all the circuit boards with a nice, smooth sealant. The Egg also provides it own cues as to this affordance: the artist has already put various handwritten multilingual phrases across its surface.

Multiple PADN quotees noted this affordance:

Tom, from Los Altos said he'd be surprised if it survives in the plaza for a long time: "It practically says, 'Spray paint me," he said.

An employee of Pizza My Heart, Emilio, thought that it didn't fit in with the environment. "It's gonna become art with all the kids' graffiti," he said.

Approachable

This isn't an affordance of the egg itself -- it's more a lack of affordance by the choice of how it was installed. Many public sculptures are mounted on pseudo-pedestals, a slightly raised bit of concrete that sets it apart from the public walking area around it. These pedestals remove the affordance of walking in the area around the artwork, creating a virtual wall of the look-don't-touch museum experience.

The Art Egg is installed with no demarcations between it and the rest of the plaza, daring you to walk directly past it or approach it. It's there to be bumped into, shoved, rocked, or otherwise used within its affordances. Visit the Egg for a brief amount of time and you'll notice multiple people touching, bumping, shoving, and even kicking it as they walk past.

Hugging

It's slightly above average human height, it's round, and you can walk right up to it. After all it's been through and all the entertainment it provided me (via the PADN), I gave it a hug.

Comments (3)

AJB:

Hey again Ken.
Thanks for the link to this. Haven't you missed (deliberately?) the one important affordance of the seven foot "art" egg. To view it from all sides. Perceived affordance is important, as it acknowledges that people bring their acheivement goals and past experience with them. In this case, most people would recognise this is art. So they would be drawn to look at it (fundamental affordance of an artwork) but this is seven foot tall and (from the image at least) appears to have different aspects to it, so it cries out to the observer to view it from all sides.

Ok - so the article was tounge in cheek - and the question posed by your friend Gus was about an egg, but this seven foot art egg does have its own perceived affordances.

kwc:

AJB, you're right, I did seem to ignore affordances from the artistic category of the egg, though I probably did so subconsciously. I find this particular installation to be ugly and trite enough that I hesitate when I use the label "art". The articles I used to find quotes to support my analysis seem to show that the journalist had trouble as well :). But you have brought a more well-rounded perspective to the analysis, looking at it from another side (forgive the puns). I should probably update this entry some day -- I also want to cite CBS' advertising on grocery store eggs [1].

[1]: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/17/business/media/17adco.html?ex=1310788800&en=9aa212e746670e9a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

AJB:

heh heh - now that's one aspect of an egg that I didn't think it afforded :-)

I am again reminded how blessed I am to live in the somewhat saner land down under :-)

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