Charecteristics, attributes, features and functionalities

The encoding/decoding model offers a basic theoretical framework which may be used to investigate instances where certain technologies and their purposes integrate easily within the lives of its consumer-users (what Silverstone, 1995 refers to as becoming ‘domesticated’). One can say this is akin to the ‘preferred reading’ of the technology and its CAFFs – characteristics, attributes, feature and functions.

Characteristics – what characterises the product phenomenologically in the users or designers mind. What makes it different and gives it an identity when considered relative to other products in the category or more generally. It is more look than function.

Attributes – this relates to affordances (i.e Gibson) . Attributes are experiences that are given by users . Designers attribute purpose.

Features – this is the public display, the customer-facing aspects,

Functions – this addresses the core utility of the device or service – what is its ‘basic’ function.

‘Negotiated readings’ may be where technologies or particular CAFFs cause problems, or only partially integrate within consumer-users’ lives. Perhaps it needs constant attention, upgrading, or perhaps is of value for only a certain period of time (such as records, films, or games which have a limited interest period of intense use followed by a loss of interest and little or cessation of use).

Negotiated readings, can also cast light on consumer-user adaptations with existing technologies – the way in which consumer-users may ‘subvert’ or innovate on the characteristics and functions of a produced technology (Westrum, 1991). Essentially this is where the consumer-user does not use them in the product designer’s prescribed manner or ‘designed’ intention.[1] ‘Oppositional readings’ of a technology is where a person remains unaware or positively resists use, or particular characteristics and functionalities. Examples here are parents who intentionally avoid buying a games console due to beliefs regarding its influence on children’s behaviour, or those who prefer not to read a manual and therefore miss out on more esoteric nevertheless useful functions, which are difficult to find through ‘learning by using’.

[1] “ . . . an innovation is  socially constructed along multiple dimensions which can be emphasised or  de-emphasized by different users in different situations. In other words, different users will perceive and construct technologies that are nominally the same in different ways. There are few predetermined parameters to the technology but, rather, the design of the technology depends crucially on the social and psychological construction of the adopting organization. Thus, innovation is not a fixed entity but a malleable social construction. The degree to which innovation is successful in a given context is then seen as being determined by both the technology itself (its unique configuration) and the operational and organizational context into which it is being inserted. Given this, decisions made before implementation, about the design of the technology and organization, will be crucial to the outcome of implementation.” (Newell, Swan, and Clark, 1993: p.34)

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