Flaws in UX design standards: Gesture based navigation

Lewis Wake
Tuesday 2 February 2016

When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, multi-touch technology got mainstream attention and users learned that they could not only point and tap on the interface but also zoom, pinch and swipe it.

Gestures became popular among designers and there were many apps that were designed around experimenting with gesture controls.

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Just like hiding the navigation and using icons instead of text labels, gestures seem sometimes tempting for designers looking to save some screen estate. (“There should not be a delete button, people will just swipe left. Or right. We’ll decide.”)

The first thing to know about gestures is that they are always hidden. People need to remember them. Just like in case of the hamburger menu: if you hide an option, less people will use it.

Think of gestures as the keyboard shortcuts of the natural user interface.

In addition, gestures have the same problem as icons do: there are common ones that most users understand like tapping, zooming and scrolling, and there are those that need to be discovered and learned for each app.

Unfortunately, most gestures are not standard and consistent across apps yet— it’s still a pretty new area of touch interface design. Even a simple gesture like swiping over an email might work differently in various mail apps.

Or, consider that shaking your device might mean both Undo (in iOS) and Send feedback (Google Maps), too.

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Gestures are hidden controls and have to be memorised which needs tons of effort on your users’ end. Tinder might be able to teach the whole world what swiping right means — but only if it’s an essential ingredient of your app’s concept.

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