Pliancy is an interesting interaction design concept to me since it’s an important element of affordances. (Recap: Affordances are characteristics that show us what an object is capable of, or what an action will do.) Pliancy is defined as: “bending readily; flexible; supple; adaptable.” That’s the real-world definition, not the IxD one, but it’s good enough. Pliancy can be observed in elements of an interface that are able to be manipulated or react to input.

When you hover over a link and it changes color, that’s pliancy at work.

During this class, we got to design app prototypes in InVision. One of the frustrations I encountered was the inability to use hovering cues. “Hovering cues” is what I knew them as then, but now I know what they’re actually called: dynamic hinting, but more on that in two paragraphs.

According to our lecture, pliancy expresses itself in four types.

There’s the kind of pliancy, as when you hover over a link, that changes the link itself (called dynamic hinting). Then there’s the kind of pliancy that will change the cursor (called cursor hinting). In Medium, you can see this when you hover over the logo in the top left corner… your mouse changes into a gloved hand. At least, mine does.

Taken on my iPhone because screenshots would hide the mouse. Also, I have flux on, so the screen is yellow.

The interesting thing about designing the app prototype? These types of hinting were not available to me! As of yet, hovering on a touch screen is not a thing. The only hinting available to you is static hinting… like the skeuomorphism I talked about last time — hinting via the design itself — although there are other ways to statically hint.

Finally, the last type of pliancy is response hinting. It’s when you begin to click on something, holding down the cursor but not releasing, and you see a state change. To see an example, go to Google, click and hold the button “Google search” and you’ll notice the outline turns blue. Being the curious sort — and let’s be honest, I have a post to write — I checked to see if this worked on my phone as well. I held down on a podcast and it highlighted blue, but I was able to scroll away without the podcast beginning to play — without the action taking place.

So there we go. As far as I know, touch screens cannot do dynamic hinting or cursor hinting. But they can do response hinting and static hinting.


Pliancy. It makes interactions both more obvious and more satisfying. And I like having a name for it now.

Note: This blog was written during IxD week 7.


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