Public Touchscreens and Logical Gestures

Lets gesture on it

After reading an interesting article by Neil Clavin (@neilclavin) here: via an urbanscale tweet (@urbanscale) I was prompted to write a little retort on the importance of understanding gestures when understanding and design interactions. And when I say gestures i’m not talking post-apple pinches and swipes, i’m talking physical behaviours that emphasise the action being undertaken. Old school gestures.

Read the original article and then my response:

Whilst I agree that public touch screens are actually a very unappealing concept when you begin to look at their day-to-day use, making the leap to “preferably touchless interactions” seems to ignore the tactile nature of being human.

I wonder if a better direction is to seek out interaction that are appropriate to the intended outcome. I’d say the reality of most touchless interfaces (such as oyster card) still involve an actual contact. In fact I saw an older woman vigorously banging her Oyster card on the sensor the other day, presumably in the hope that a bit more physicality would improve the functionality.

Above all, successful contactless systems are about a logical gesture. This is why QR is such a ‘WTF’ experience; because it doesn’t have a pre-existing behaviour attached to it (and of course the technology is as clunky as hell, and the content it reveals is usually crap).

So touchless = good. Touchless everything = no thanks.

From Adam Clavin's Walkshop: Analysing QR codes

I could also have gone into the potential difficulties that users with poor eyesight might have with a touchless interface – but this is a moot point, more so because I’ve actually got no specific evidence that it’s better or worse. My instinct is that it’s probably worse, but who knows.

What this really got me thinking about is this notion of carrying over instincts and behaviours from the old way of doing things. I’m forever debating this issue as a graphic designer; using the vernacular of the past to describe the current. Or. Using the vernacular of the present to introduce the future.

It depends on your perspective.

So using the funny visual cues of today can help people into the future, but how does it limit people? The UK road sign system icon for ‘speed camera’ is perhaps the oddest representation of a camera possible. It’s almost surreal.

And this is just visual stuff. What about gestures and behaviours? What learned behaviour do we carry forward to the post digital age? Do we invent new things? Or approximate the old? And what is the value in either?

I don’t have any suggestions yet, maybe other people do. Gesture me an answer if you know something that I don’t. Just make sure it’s a gesture I understand.