Appropriation User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition


Appropriation: Concept Definition

In a user experience (UX) 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.

For your convenience, we’ve collected all UX literature that deals with Appropriation. Here’s the full list: