This is kind of a conceptual thing I have wondered from time to time. What I am trying to describe is when a user can provide some sort of input to software that will result in some action being taken, but that ability is not obvious and there is no affordance presented to suggest it.

I have just run into a particularly good example of this in Adobe Acrobat XI. I am making a fillable PDF form, and I had opened a properties dialog for one of the (many) fields. I accidentally discovered that if I press the Enter key in this dialog, the result is that it stays up, but now shows properties for the next field in the tab order.

For instance, in the dialog below, pressing the Enter key will not close the dialog, but rather change its "focus" to Text26.

screenshot of Acrobat's "Text Field Properties" dialog

Is there a formal term in UX/HCI theory for this situation? Thanks!


1 Answer 1


Wikipedia defines:

  • False Affordance -- An affordance which in reality does nothing
  • Hidden Affordance -- An affordance that has possibilites for action but they are not perceived

I would add to the list:

  • Unintuitive Affordance -- An affordance which seems to imply some action but results in some other less intuitive action.

I think you could also make the arguement that it's just bad UI/UX. If your user is expecting something to happen based on an affordance and it doesn't happen then you probably have a poorly designed interface.

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