Gestures are an inescapable facet of mobile development. Once just an exciting feature of Apple’s new touch screen technology, gestures have now almost entirely replaced buttons. Swiping, tapping, dragging – this is how we interface with the virtual world in the modern age.
They are also one of the most interesting concepts in mobile UX design, due to their paradoxical nature. Gestures are not exactly a convention – a swipe may perform an entirely different function in one app than another – yet at the same time, they are intuitive, almost universal.
Just take a look at this study, which asked people across different countries to come up with gestures for various tasks in an app. They collected over 9,000 gestures, but their most interesting conclusions were ones that implied gestures transcended nationality: “deleting” an object, for example, translated to dragging it off the screen in all cultures.
But despite their universal commonalities, it is still often necessary for mobile apps to teach gestures – whether they are standard or not. Even Tinder, the app that singlehandedly catapulted the “swipe” gesture into the cultural consciousness, still gives a quick tutorial for first-time users.
So let us say you have a new gesture. Maybe it is a combination of a swipe or a pinch, or physically tilting and shaking the phone. Maybe it is something entirely new! But regardless of the actual mechanism, employing an unusual gesture can get tricky. This article acts a guide, a handbook for taking your new gesture from idea to implementation.
Understanding The Risk
Before committing, it is important to comprehend the risks and rewards of employing a brand-new, unique gesture in your mobile app.
The reason gestures are so popular is that they actively simulate the real-world interaction. They bring a physical component to the virtual world, an anchor of familiarity in the sometimes-confusing digital realm.
Because of this, users are naturally drawn to gesture-driven interfaces. They eschew buttons, which means decluttering your app’s UI. They cater to our intuition and make using an application fun, a sometimes hard needle to thread in UX design.
So if your gesture is something a user has never seen before, it is likely it will vastly improve their experience – if they can use it.
That is a fairly big “if”, and it brings us to the risks of using an unfamiliar or never-before-seen gesture in an application. Gestures come with learning curves, and the more complex or uncommon that gesture is, the higher the curve.
Users do not like learning. They want your app to be seamless, intuitive – a lengthy tutorial or a convoluted gesture will only cause frustration, and thus a poor user experience. Even if the gesture is attached to an impressive feature or functionality, it will not matter if your users cannot access it.
I strongly recommend considering your gesture before moving on to validation. Sure, you will not know for certain if your gesture will act as a boon or burden without testing it. However, before dedicating time and money to that research, ask yourself if you are sure you are ready to gamble.
Validating the Gesture
The next step is your app development team creating a prototype, or perhaps a high-fidelity wireframe. While this should not serve as the final product, it needs to be interactive enough to implement your gesture so that it can be validated through user testing.
User testing is an inextricable phase in every aspect of UX design. It is the only way to confirm the design choices made were the correct ones and remains the most relevant source of feedback possible. Users are the lifeblood of any application. Without their approval, your app is doomed to fail.
This is especially true for something as unpredictable as a new gesture. There are a number of mobile usability testing methodologies you can use to see if your new gesture is usable and well-received by your app’s users, but one of the most common approaches for UX design agencies is as follows.
- Create a series of tasks that require using the new gesture to complete
- Prompt the user under test to perform the task, while using a screen recorder and data collection program to track taps, swipes, and other gestures
- After recording, ask the user their thoughts on the gesture. Was it easy to perform? Intuitive? Enjoyable?
This strategy is useful because it is a one-two punch. First, it takes a laissez-faire approach, where the UX researcher acts only as an observer. This allows the user to engage with the app in an unassisted, and thus natural, environment.
The second half of this methodology takes a more direct approach. After not interfering with the user’s workflow, the tester inquires how the user felt about the app, or more specifically, the gesture.
This two-pronged testing method is one of the most effective ways to validate your gesture. If users react positively to it, you can continue to the next step of implementation. If not, it may be time to go back to the drawing board, or simply use a more common gesture.
Finding The Path Forward
It is hard to introduce an alternative mechanism smoothly, so if you have gotten positive feedback from your users, congratulations. But the work is still far from done. You will need to tackle another UX obstacle: teaching new users the gesture and its function.
That topic alone deserves a dozen new articles dedicated to it, but that is the nature of UX design. The user experience is a seemingly endless entity. It encompasses every element of your application, the sum of all of its parts.
Gestures may be fickle, but backed by the right UX design agency (one that emphasises user testing), you can create a gesture that brings your users functionality, delight, and an overall excellent experience.
Want to learn more?
Are you interested in the intersection between UX and UI Design? The online courses on UI Design Patterns for Successful Software and Design Thinking: The Beginner’s Guide can teach you skills you need. If you take a course, you will earn an industry-recognized course certificate to advance your career. On the other hand, if you want to brush up on the basics of UX and Usability, try the online course on User Experience (or another design topic). Good luck on your learning journey!
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