Interface Curmudgeons versus Gestures


I’m just amazed that Norman and Nielsen have climbed onto their soapbox to bash gestural interfaces. It’s my favorite part of the iPad and the MacBook. Gestures are easy to learn and a big step forward in navigation in my opinion. And I’m a very slow interface learner.

All things being equal, I’m all for affordances, visibility, and standardization. Have Norman and Nielsen realized you can’t really have a standard with affordances out of the gate? The mouse may now be considered standard, but it’s shocking how long it takes to learn how to use. Gestures and touching things directly is way easier than maneuvering with a mouse.

I found it took me about 30 seconds to learn Apple’s gestures. These are way better than a forward and back button, however visible and standardized the button/menu-paradigm is.

Also, the gestures that involve swiping with inertia are super cool. For one, the naturalness is just stunning — it behaves exactly the way I’d expect and it took like two seconds to master the interface. That’s what a UI designer would call an “affordance” because it acts like you’d expect from real life — saying “intuitive” is a no-no. As a result, I have a totally different opinion about scrolling versus clicking on the iPad and MacBook than I did on the menu- and button-driven navigation.

What really blows me away are the games. Carcassonne on the iPad, for instance, is just wonderful. It’s pretty much all gesture based once you go through some one-deep menus to start a game.

I did hand it to someone who couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. I always found the on/off part of the iPods to be really confusing. But the iPad (1 at least) has an off switch. It’s just a bit concealed.

Speaking of affordances, another thing that blows me away on Mac OS X is that web forms and other text inputs support most of the emacs commands. That’s a huge affordance for me at least, and the thing that got Mitzi most excited about her new Mac (she had to get one after I spent two weeks saying “why didn’t people try harder to convince me to switch?”).

4 Responses to “Interface Curmudgeons versus Gestures”

  1. Rich W Says:

    I had to chuckle slightly at the hyperlink to “bash gestural interfaces”. Made me think of intuitive gestures I could use while running /bin/bash.

  2. Mark J Says:

    Hi Bob,

    I haven’t used a Mac for decades so I don’t know their new interfaces, but I agree with Norman and Nielson that I often find interfaces on new gadgets like phones and TV remotes very hard to use. How do people figure out how to use these gadgets when there’s no documentation and the meanings of the buttons and gestures is context-dependent?


    • Bob Carpenter Says:

      Trial and error. And asking their friends. One of the reasons I switched to the Mac is that everyone else I work with has one.

      It’s really amazing watching kids pick up interfaces and also watching them troubleshoot their gadgets.

      The gestures on Mac OS X are great for browsing, but it’s really the iPad that feels so great in terms of how gestures work. The one thing that’s problematic is accidentally hitting things you don’t want to. I have the same problem with touchpads on notebooks, too.

      • Mark J Says:

        I’m all in favour of better interfaces, and the touch-pad-as-pseudo-mouse is clearly sub-optimal. But maybe it’s just my age, but I like documentation! Heck, I actually look up the C++ ISO standard documentation when I’m programming (although I admit the SGI web pages are easier to use if you’re working with an old part of the standard library).


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