Yesterday was the last day of Swipe Conference so I thought I would take this time to reiterate one of the points I took from the first presentation by Josh Clark.  Josh covered quite a few topics and if you haven’t already you should check out his book Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps.

In short:

  • Gestures can be brilliant … if the context they are used in feels natural
  • If you’re using gestures make sure your users will find them
  • If you don’t think your users will figure out your gestures easily, don’t overload your users with lots of help hints all at once; instead, let them “unlock” them over time, like a reward for using your app
  • Downside though is that there is no consensus on what a 3 finger swipe gesture might do. Every iOS app that uses this gestures decides it for themselves.

It was obvious from the way Josh presents that he has so much passion for touch / gesture based devices. What I personally took away from his presentation was that gestures can be awesome shortcuts within your app. In a lot of cases gestures are a natural progression with how we interact with real world items.

So let’s drill in a little more to some of these points.

Gestures are brilliant… if used in the correct context

How cool are gestures?! As a developer I have the freedom to implement any gesture I want, to perform any actions I desire. But it’s not really that simple – you need to consider if the gesture you’re using makes sense for the functionally you’re tying it to. For example, do you believe your users will associate a cool 4 finger pinch gesture in your app with bringing up a feedback email form?

Bad example, I know – because of course you would say: thats just stupid; why would you do that?! But these are exactly the kind of questions we need to ask ourselves – not only as developers, but as UX designers.

How will users learn your gestures?

If you want to add a gesture to your app because it’s a cool shortcut, how are you going to let your users know those gestures exist within your app?

Take a look at Apple for example. Their iBook app allows a user to turn a page by swiping from right to left; and yet in Contacts app, performing this action will most likely prompt you to delete one of your contacts. This is just confusing to a user.

I highly recommend that you watch Cathy Shive‘s presentation (when the Swipe Conference presentations are released – I will update this post when it happens). Cathy highlighted a lot of great reasons why it’s so important to get your metaphors right. If it looks like a book and doesn’t function at all like a book, then why are you making your app look like a book?

If the gesture you’re adding into your app is not something a user will instinctively know to try out, then you need to give them some hints to be able to find this shortcut.

There are a number ways you can do this:

  • Possibly draw attention to the part of the app that has this gesture – maybe it could pulse for the first time to signify it is interactive
  • Perform an animation that hints to the type of gesture that may be used to replay something
  • If your app has quite a few shortcuts maybe only provide one hint each time the user starts up your app

Don’t forget to give your users a chance to explore your app. Users love to explore. They may stumble upon your gestures themselves.

Don’t overload your new users with “helpful” hint messages

I really liked the example Josh highlighted, which was if you were to be given an in-depth explanation before you were to read a book, you would instantly feel like using a book was quite complicated. For example: you turn the page from left to right, you read from left to right (depending on culture) and when you reach the end of a line you jump down to the next line and continue; to bookmark you can fold over a page and return to it in the future; when done, simply close the book (there’s a funny explanatory diagram along similar lines that you can find here).

The same goes for an iOS app. Feel free to explore gestures; make use of them as shortcuts within your app, but if you need to explain to a user how to use your app, then don’t just throw up a big old welcome message that tells a user every gesture they can perform – I guarantee you they will glaze over it. If it looks and feels complicated, then you’re just putting off your users.

In short, ease your users into finding these hidden gems within your app.

I hope swipeconf runs again next year!

Swipe Conference was great! I had a great time and all the presenters were excellent. It was cool to see so many iOS developers / UX designers out there who are really trying to build the best iOS apps they can.

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