making gestures visible

Since the iPhone introduced capacitive touch screens to the consumer market we have touch gestures all around. Gestures are movements that are recognized and trigger a function. Web OS uses this heavily e.g. for closing applications, Apple uses them e.g. for making buttons for deleting mails visible.

It is invisible in current gestural/touch interfaces that gestures can be done and it is invisible what they do as well. Users must know how to use this gestures beforehand. The “natural user interface” that it proclaims to be, sucks. Don Norman wrote about this already a time ago, so actually I don't tell anything new.

There are no ways I know of that introduce visibility to touch-gesture-interfaces. So I made up my mind.

First the user needs to know that a gesture can be done and in which way. For signifying this, I used an element which is already a standard for mouse based interfaces: On scrollbars and at the corners of windows a "rough" structure shows that these elements can be moved. This has been around for some time. So in my designs this visual expression as signifier for elements a gesture can be performed on. Note that this as well indicates the direction of the gesture as the riffle runs opposite to the movement's direction.

what it looks like

Now the user still does not know what the gesture will cause – e.g. does it delete an item or starts reordering elements? – and when –  is a short movement that will cause the action or a longer one? I don't have a solution to show this beforehand. But at least this can be shown directly after the gesture is initiated: Close to the element but not obscured by the finger a button is shown – first transparent, after further execution of the gesture in greater contrast. When the distance threshold is exceeded, the button appears to be pressed. This again draws on the experiences with common interfaces and standards. Try it yourself: demo.

I am not totally satisfied: The gestures can't be more advanced and the result is not clear before the gesture is started. Any ideas?

7 thoughts on “making gestures visible

  1. Profile photo of Jay Rutherford

    I agree that we will probably need to keep the hardware home button on the iPhone and iPad for some time. There are a lot of users, for instance (including myself, embarrassingly), who took a long while to figure out what they did with the iPad's "lock orientation" button. This used to be right next to the volume controls, so it made sense to switch it's assignment, but they didn't tell anyone. I learned through a magazine app that pressing home twice brings up the app switcher, where you can slide over and lock the horizontal or vertical orientation. It's less comfortable that the hardware switch (more gestures — 5 clicks as opposed to one before — to achieve the same result), but the new usage of the switch is more intuitive.

    1. Profile photo of Max F. AlbrechtMax F. Albrecht

      > This used to be right next to the volume controls, so it made sense to switch it’s assignment, but they didn’t tell anyone.

      apple learned (at least) from this mistake. in the soon-to-public iOS 4.3 you may choose the assignment of the iPad hardware switch in settings (options: mute or orientation lock)

  2. Profile photo of Jan DittrichJan Dittrich Post author

    Good point to compare gestures to keyboard shortcuts. (nice Link btw)
    It would be great though to use the advantages of gestures and make them easy to use for beginners.

      1. Profile photo of Jan DittrichJan Dittrich Post author

        I think we can design in a way that makes gestural interaction easy to understand for the beginner and should not hesitate to do so – among others aiming to the 95% people (just guessing) that don't watch the instructions. (though yes, videos are much better than text in this case)

  3. Profile photo of Max F. AlbrechtMax F. Albrecht

    not every function achievable via gesture has to have a visual marker — for me they are similar to shortcuts in this aspect. there are other (and visually marked) ways to delete this email, but it takes on more tap and you need to go 1 layer further down. this way is accesible for novice users, but the more advanced users can use the gesture (like cmd+S for quick saving on the desktop).
    in my opinion (tainted by 3+ years of daily iOS usage) there are no real "hidden" gestures in iOS/the Apple iOS apps, there is always a visually marked alternative to do the same. and the existing "hidden shortcuts" are few and consistent: slide over a list-item to trigger an action with it. hold down something for a while to make it editable. the only other gesture i remember right now is unofficial, but intuitive: pull down a list view "as if there should be more content" to refresh it ( i think twitter had it first).
    apple is currently testing some more of this gestures: 4-finger pinch an app to return to home, 4 finger swipe to switch between apps. they also dont have a visual marker (may except the already present app-switching animations, but they only make it more logical and easy to remember once you found out about it) but that is not a problem because there are other ways to do it.
    (inspiration comes from here. gruber used this as a (convincing) argument why the home button is here to stay, nevertheless you don't need it anymore.)

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