Appropriation

Your constantly-updated definition of Appropriation and collection of topical content and literature
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What is Appropriation?

In a user experience (ֱ) design context, appropriation refers to the use of a product in a way the designer did not intend. This form of appropriation is generally considered positive, because it increases the ways people can use a design. An example of appropriation would be using newspapers as rags for cleaning windows. Thus, designs become versatile.

Appropriation of a design for a new use is likely to create new sales and possibly even new markets for a product. Although designers cannot control when or how users will appropriate a design, they can create designs that encourage users to do this. Human-Computer Interaction Professor Alan Dix describes seven guidelines for designing for appropriation:

  1. Allow for interpretation by leaving at least some parts of the system open for the user to determine how they should be used.
  2. Provide visibility by providing more information about a system’s state than you expect the user to require.
  3. Expose intentions: making the intentions for the use of a product clear to the user can help keep appropriation within acceptable limits.
  4. Support the user; don’t control what they can do.
  5. Plugability and configuration: design products so users are able to modify them freely.
  6. Encourage sharing within a community of users.
  7. Learn from appropriation: if you can discover how your designs are being appropriated, you can begin to adopt those appropriations into your designs.

Appropriation—whose literal meaning is taking something for one’s own purposes, usually without the owner’s consent—thus, appropriately, expands the scope and potential for designers to access new and unexpected realms, thanks largely to giving their products’ users free rein. In some cases, designers may find the moderately selling creation they have in their intended market achieving far greater success due to its ‘misuse’ elsewhere.

Literature on Appropriation

Here’s the entire ֱ literature on Appropriation by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Appropriation

Take a deep dive into Appropriation with our course Get Your Product Used: Adoption and Appropriation .

Designing for user experience and usability is not enough. If products are not used—and it doesn’t matter how good they are—they will be consigned to the trash can of history.

Sony’s Betamax, Coca-Cola’s New Coke, Pepsi’s Crystal Pepsi, and McDonald’s Arch Deluxe are among the most famous products which made it into production but failed to wow their audiences, according to Business Insider. In fact, Harvard Business Review dedicated a long piece to “Why most product launches fail”—so it’s not just big brands that aren’t getting their design process right but a lot of businesses and individuals, too.

So, what is the way forward? Well, once you’re sure that the user experience and usability of your product work the way you want them to, you’ve got to get your designs adopted by users (i.e., they have to start using them). Ideally, you want them to appropriate your designs, too; you want the users to start using your designs in ways you didn’t intend or foresee. How do we get our designs adopted and appropriated? We design for adoption and appropriation.

This course is presented by Alan Dix, a former professor at Lancaster University in the UK and a world-renowned authority in Human-Computer Interaction. Alan is also the author the university-level textbook “Human-Computer Interaction.” It is a short course designed to help you master the concepts and practice of designing for adoption and appropriation. It contains all the basics to get you started on this path and the practical tips to implement the ideas. Alan blends theory and practice to ensure you get to grips with these essential design processes.

All Literature

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