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Input Devices Programming

Experts Say Gestural Interfaces Are a Step Backwards In Usability 254

Posted by samzenpus
from the wave-to-the-past dept.
smitty777 writes "Veteran usability experts Donald A. Norman and Jakob Nielsen wrote an interesting article lamenting the current state of the art in gesture interfaces. According to them, the lack of standards for interacting with these devices puts us on par with the '94 vintage in web design, when designers discovered they could make the buttons and UI look like anything they wanted."
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Experts Say Gestural Interfaces Are a Step Backwards In Usability

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  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:28PM (#36246838) Homepage Journal

    puts us on par with the '94 vintage in web design, when designers discovered they could make the buttons and UI look like anything they wanted.

    Hmm... this has given me some good ideas for an iOS app I'm farting around with. However, I can't find how to add faux-BLINK tagged text and Geocities-type spinning, flaming skulls in Interface Builder...
  • patents (Score:3, Interesting)

    by danbuter (2019760) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:34PM (#36246860)
    What with all the OS companies trademarking the various gestures, there's no way they'll become standardized. Unfortunately.
    • Re:patents (Score:5, Funny)

      by AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) <afacini@gm a i l . c om> on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:55PM (#36246978)
      There's actually a particular gesture that's widely standardized to address this type of thing. At least in the US.
      • There's actually a particular gesture that's widely standardized to address this type of thing. At least in the US.

        I'm pretty sure there's an i18n localization for a semantically equivalent gesture in each locale.

        • Semantics???? Is that what the driver in the other car was doing? Semantics?
          • I guess you must have done some antics that he didn't like.

            Some years ago I was blocked in traffic by an idiot and when he eventually moved, I mouthed "thank you" at him. He proceeded to follow me home, knocked on my door, and screamed at me that I had called him a "wanker". Well, I might have thought it...a universal gesture for "thank you" is surely needed.

    • What with all the OS companies trademarking the various gestures, there's no way they'll become standardized. Unfortunately.

      Are they patenting them or trademarking them? Any copyrights?

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        Are they patenting them or trademarking them? Any copyrights?

        All three, probably.
        I know that doesn't make any sense, but did these systems ever really?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:36PM (#36246872)

    It's not surprising that this has come about again. It has been roughly one full generation of developers since 1994. During that time, those developers who actually learned proper usability techniques either retired or moved on to other endeavors. They knowledge they acquired and the methods they developed have basically been lost to the sands of time.

    Today, we have a whole new generation of developers creating this shitty software. They'll spend the next 10 to 15 years learning what the previous generation had learned. There'll be a few years of good UI design before these developers move on, at which time the cycle will repeat.

    • by jon_doh2.0 (2097642) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:24PM (#36247144)
      "It has been roughly one full generation of developers since 1994"

      Its not as if generations move through the industry in a block, like tribal age-group initiates.
    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:37PM (#36247192) Journal
      Marketing types would like us all to believe generations can be packaged up and tagged as "boomers", "GenY", ect, which then take on certain attributes that sales people can target. Back in the "real world" there is no syncronised changing of the guard, what we have is a shared continuum of ideas and experience that is not bounded by time, place, DOB, or target markets. It is only bounded by how far nature can go in evolving our talent for using complex language and in evolutionary terms she has only just started experimenting.
    • It always flabbergasted me that devs are in charge of interfaces. I once worked on a casual gaming web site, and convinvcing them that the overarching principle was "my mom should be able to use it", and that this subsumed knowing what's happening, how to get back one step, actually knowing where I am, underlining clickable things or putting them in buttons.... was a big fight.

    • by aztektum (170569)

      Now get off his lawn.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      A generation of developers maybe, but not all information is lost I'm sure. With accumulated knowledge, now there exist proper UI design guidelines for most platforms. 17 years ago not, as it really all had to be invented. Also I expect that schools/universities now teach user interface design based on this experience, something that this previous generation of developers never had. Those courses didn't exist back then.

      What did happen though, is that a totally new way of interacting with a computer appeare

    • by dargaud (518470)
      Tell me about it. I write (among other things) user interfaces for scientific software. After over 20 years I get few complaints from users as I've pretty much standardized my interfaces. I recently gave svn access to one of my project code to a researcher who had to add advanced numerical analysis code to a prog. He took it upon himself to 'improve' the user interface. Now every button and window has a different color !
  • Gesture based interfaces are a bit of a mixed bag, if they are done well (see the iOS pinch gestures) they work very well, but if badly implemented you end up accidentally triggering them all the time. Despite the age of the classic "object" based UI designs, they are still the best control method (in most cases), just because you can see what you are doing by what you hit.
    • I prefer interfaces augmented with gestures like Opera with mouse gestures. I don't use all the gestures but new tabs, closing the current tab, moving forward or backward in history, those get used a lot.

      'course, I tend to dislike touchscreens but the thought of touchscreen PCs or Kinect interfaces for PCs are even more annoying.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)

        There was a time when a gesture plugin was the first thing I installed when installing a copy of Firefox. Now, I really rarely use them, and would really favor chording and additional buttons. Traditionally, your left button is for clicking, and right button is to initiate a gesture. Lets say you want to go forward or backward, a right click followed by dragging the mouse is a very deliberate action and takes time. Less time than going up to the forward/back button, but considerably more effort than a c

        • this really depends on screen size. I've got a 26", so it's much slower to go back to the extreme upper left than to right click and move to go back, forward, close, duplicate...

          also, Opera does not need an addon to do that, which helps. I find firefox's addons very cumbersome

        • by pjt33 (739471)

          You do have to be careful with the functions you put on extra buttons, though, because people who are used to a two-button mouse might click them accidentally. I know I've had some embarrassing moments like that.

  • I'm not being sarcastic here, but this is why i've felt that the atrix i own is an inferior phone to the n900. In the n900, the upper corner always took you to the multi task screen where you could close the application out, and if you closed the app, it always worked. This was because it had a not-as-friendly-to-touch interface that was based of of linux guidelines. There was consistency, but if the button wasn't visible, all applications still responded to it (unless they were frozen, then a freeze popup would happen, allowing you to close).

    This has been bugging me for the past few months with the android, and now i know why it just doesn't feel up to snuff. The android phone is the first phone i've ever owned that had mystery behavior.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by w0mprat (1317953)
      You DO NOT need to close applications in Android. It's handled automagically by the OS.

      It's a hangover habit from the desktop world where you need to close applications when your finished with them. You don't need to even think of it on Android and how it works is rather a refreshing piece of OS design (to the point Apple somewhat copied it for iOS).

      There is a lot of misunderstand about how Android multitasks, which is really rather innovative that we could have used in operating systems a long time ag
      • You DO NOT need to close applications in Android. It's handled automagically by the OS.

        Unless the app crashes, locks up, goes into an infinite loop, decides to be designed badly so that the only way you can get back to a certain stage in the program is to fully restart it (not just go home and then back), etc, etc. Agreed though, Android does a really good job of removing the need to close applications and have task killers etc, but they cannot protect you from crappy programmers in general..

  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:46PM (#36246916) Journal

    ...the slashdot April fools ohmigodponies interface. It was the pinnacle of web design and nothing has come close since.

    • by slinches (1540051)

      Pfft, all that eye candy is unnecessary and a waste of resources. Unixkcd [xkcd.com] is perfection. Simple, clean and delivers the content effectively.

  • I've got a gesture (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:47PM (#36246928)

    I've got a single gesture in mind for folks who think that gesture-based interfaces are where it's at...

    Actually, I do like the intuitive "pinch, spin, slide" type gestures with iOS, but for PC-based stuff, I can't stand a lot of the new, shiny crap folks are pushing. Removing useful things like status bars, and replacing intuitive "I don't know what I'm looking for, but I'll know it when I see it" menus with those "trying to view the Grand Canyon through a toilet paper tube" restrictiveness of these ribbons and such... it just really gets annoying.

    • by lowlymarine (1172723) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @10:53PM (#36246962)
      I don't see how anyone who is familiar with computers could find iOS's gestures "intuitive." I actually had to look up how to create folders after iOS 4.0 hit. Drag one application on top of another? How does that bear any resemblance to a) how things are already done on Windows/OS X/Gnome/KDE/etc. or b) common sense?

      In Android, conversely, you long-press (stand-in for right-click) and bam, "New folder" is right there in the menu that comes up. Just like you're already used to.
      • Ah, but how did you know that long-press mean is the stand-in for right click? That's not intuitive IMO. A two-finger touch would be more intuitive for me.

        Intuition is conceived from experience, and not from thin air, and none of us share the exact same intuition.

        • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:09PM (#36247068)
          In Windows Vista and 7 at least there is a visual indicator for a long press that aids in discoverability. When you touch the screen, a progress bar starts circling your finger. I've found people discover the long press on their own, since they wait to see what happens when the circle completes. It's hard to describe, so here's a link [youtu.be] showing it. In the video the delay between when the screen is touched and when the progress bar stars is a little longer than the default.
      • by Paco103 (758133)

        How does that bear any resemblance to a) how things are already done on Windows/OS X/Gnome/KDE/etc.

        To be fair, how can we expect things to be done the same way? My phone suffers limitations that don't exist on my computer, such as no keyboard, no mouse with a right click, etc. I don't WANT things done the same way. Sure, I log into my computer with a 16 character password containing letters, numbers, and symbols. Typing this in on a keyboard is easy for me and contained in muscle memory, so I don't really even have to think about it. On my phone though, even on my old G1 which had, in my opinion, th

      • In Android, conversely, you long-press (stand-in for right-click) and bam, "New folder" is right there in the menu that comes up. Just like you're already used to.

        I'm not used to 'long clicking' in a PC interface for anything except dragging items about. (A 'long click' may be a stand-in for right clicking, but it isn't right clicking.) In addition, to create an empty folder requires not only right clicking (not 'long clicking'), but also generally selecting from a menu.

        So, no - the Android interf

        • The point is that there's only one new concept to learn here - that "long tap" means "context menu" - and then you can use most of your pre-existing knowledge about such things from Windows/Mac/Linux.

      • by Wovel (964431)

        It is rather intuitive...

        There is no standard way to create a new folder across the platforms you named btw.

    • by msobkow (48369)

      The issue isn't with gestures per se. It's whether the gestures and application responses to those gestures are consistent, and they're not. Without consistency, the user doesn't learn how to effectively use a platform, only a handful of applications.

      If stroke-right deletes in one case, it should be the gesture for delete in all cases. Without consistency, a UI is non-intuitive and fails at it's primary goal of making a platform usable.

      • by shmlco (594907)

        "If stroke-right deletes in one case, it should be the gesture for delete in all cases."

        Wrong, because you're not considering mode and context. Dragging your finger to the right is a drawing program is different that dragging your finger to the right in a list, which is different from dragging your finger to the right in a multi-view app like Weather.

        It's like saying that clicking and dragging a mouse cursor to the right should always do the same thing, regardless of the type of program, mode, and what you

  • seeing as it has a standardized set of gestures including a standard gesture area. But it seems to focus exclusively on iOS and Android...
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Other than iOS and Android, are there any serious touch-optimised options around, then?

      Symbian maybe? No experience, doesn't seem to be exactly popular. Development seems stalled.

      Windows Phone 7? From reviews I understand it's not bad at all, but still no contender.

      Blackberry's OS? No experience - but my image of blackberries includes a complete (albeit tiny) keyboard. And a stylus.

      No others that I can think of, really. So it's just iOS and Android that really deserve attention. Would be good to see one

  • I thought with the title, it would be a social study about how gesturing at a computer like an ape instead of sitting down and calmly telling your equipment what to do (via text or speech) is a major steps backwards for humanity. How can people not realize that every new technology will go through a phase where everyone implements their own idea before the industry settles on a few good ideas?
    • by PCM2 (4486)

      How can people not realize that every new technology will go through a phase where everyone implements their own idea before the industry settles on a few good ideas?

      So when TFA says, "We urgently need to return to our basics, developing usability guidelines for these systems that are based upon solid principles of interaction design, not on the whims of the company human interface guidelines and arbitrary ideas of developers," you see that as what? Whining? A bad thing?

      Jakob Nielsen is one of the leading figures in human-computer interaction. His whole point is that companies and developers don't need to make it all up on the fly, because there have been decades of res

      • How can people not realize that every new technology will go through a phase where everyone implements their own idea before the industry settles on a few good ideas?

        So when TFA says, "We urgently need to return to our basics, developing usability guidelines for these systems that are based upon solid principles of interaction design, not on the whims of the company human interface guidelines and arbitrary ideas of developers," you see that as what? Whining? A bad thing?

        Jakob Nielsen is one of the leading figures in human-computer interaction. His whole point is that companies and developers don't need to make it all up on the fly, because there have been decades of research conducted already into how people interact with machines and devices. There are plenty of experts, not just Nielsen, who can offer their expertise. The problem is that so far it seems like it's being ignored.

        Perhaps -- just maybe -- the case is that the "expert" UI gurus charge too much for the average mobile app developer to employ, especially for a note-keeper or other one-off application.

      • by shmlco (594907)

        "... because there have been decades of research conducted already into how people interact with machines and devices..."

        I''m sure that there have been *decades* of user-interaction research into portable, hand-held, touch-operated devices like the iPhone and iPad.

        Despite the fact that the iPhone wasn't even publicly available four years ago. And no, pen-based tablets and PDAs are NOT the same thing.

        I mean, it's not like Apple hasn't had any experience creating and publishing and standardizing user-interfac

    • incredibly, for things to move forward you Need *someone* to push, which is what the authors are doing.

  • by pitchpipe (708843) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @11:09PM (#36247072)
    Now you kids with your loud music and your Dan Fogelberg, your Zima, hula hoops and gesture interfaces, don't you see? People today have attention spans that can only be measured in nanoseconds.
    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      Dan Fogelberg? Kids?

      Time to get back on your meds, pitchpipe. Fogelberg is soooo 1970's. You might as well throw in a few zoot suit references for good measure.

      Oh, wait. Hula hoops.

      You were meta-ranting.

      Sorry.

      Please carry on. I get it now.

  • by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:03AM (#36247332)

    I'm not anywhere near the caliber of UI expertise as Norman or Nielsen. But there's a big advantage to pioneering a new physical interface: you don't need the language part of your brain. My 1 year old twin nephews can interact with their iPads with only the most basic of demonstrations of how a new app works. They can't read or write but they can follow demos of fingers creating action pretty well.

    Is bringing along the old interface of mice & menus helping or hurting? I particularly like the new "swipe up" gesture to scroll down of a touchscreen rather than the traditional "elevator window" model of scroll bars where clicking up scrolls up.

    They are absolutely to be commended for chastising developers that there is no easy way to discover actions if they are not intuitive; I'd rather they come up with ways to address this than just fall back on menus though. For example, Apple included an interactive tutorial for using the custom gestures built-in to Pages, Numbers and Keynote because they aren't discoverable at all. Some I've forgotten because I don't use them (and I'd have to re-watch the tutorials again to re-program my brain). But the ones I have picked up on are absolutely ingrained and effortless now. Unfortunately, built-in tutorials are the exception rather than the rule, and even when they are included they more trouble to refer to than a drop down menu. But there are ways to improve without eliminating gestures.

    I wouldn't want to use the gesture interface when I'm programming during the day, but when I'm swiping through my early morning junk mail, RSS feeds, and to-do items, my brain feels far more engaged on my iPad than my desktop. It's almost like the touch gestures are autonomic and leave my (limited) higher brain functions alone to read though the fog (at least until my caffeine kicks in.)

    I agree that people need to improve gesture interfaces which are in their infancy, but I don't think it's justified to throw the baby out with the bath water just because of long traditions.

    • You missed the point. The problem is not gestures themselves, it is the lack of standards. The same gesture doesn't trigger the same kind of action across applications creating confusion in users' minds.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by shmlco (594907)

        So dragging your finger from left to right in a drawing program is supposed to do the same things as dragging your finger from left to right in a contact list? Which should do the same exact thing when you drag your finger from left to right in iBooks or the Kindle app?

        Sorry, but context and mode mean that the "same" gestures do different things. Discoverability is often an issue, true, and consistency can always be improved, but the fact that the same gesture doesn't trigger the same kind of action isn't a

        • by narcc (412956)

          So dragging your finger from left to right in a drawing program is supposed to do the same things as dragging your finger from left to right in a contact list?

          How many times are you going to repeat this? Every time someone says that gestures should be consistent?

          Just stop. It's obvious that you haven't put anymore than a seconds thought into this.

          Sorry, but context and mode mean that the "same" gestures do different things.

          Yeah, everyone else figured this out ages ago. They just don't feel the need to specify 'context' when that is obvious to everyone but you.

          What people write: Swiping right means delete in email, but does nothing in calendar.

          Which everyone but you interprets as: Swiping right [on a list item] means delete in email, b

      • Well, I thought I understood it.

        Norman & Nielsen say gestures lack intuition because they lack consistency, discoverability, visibility, and feedback. They say they suck for other reasons too (scalability, et al). Compared to the successes of the traditional menu interface, OS vendors should: disallow inconsistent gestures. Develop gestures that can be reliable and not prone to error. Only release gestures in the wild before perfecting them in the lab. Add a button to universally pop up applicable menus

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      I'm not anywhere near the caliber of UI expertise as Norman or Nielsen. B

      Don't sell yourself short, half of Nielsen's claim to fame is being opinionated more than "right"...

      I especially love his quote "the developer community's apparent ignorance of the long history and many findings of HCI research which results in their feeling of empowerment to unleash untested and unproven creative efforts upon the unwitting public."

      This could almost be translated to "we have told you over and over how we think you should design a UI, and yet you STILL try to innovate!"

      Like many other things

    • by w0mprat (1317953)

      Is bringing along the old interface of mice & menus helping or hurting? I particularly like the new "swipe up" gesture to scroll down of a touchscreen rather than the traditional "elevator window" model of scroll bars where clicking up scrolls up.

      Try scrolling to the bottom of a long menu / a lot of text. You'll see why the "elevator window" scroll bar is superior to finger swipe is superior to what you describe. It also gives some visual queues of where you are in the list and how far there is to go up or down where a touch alternative doesn't.

      Also, an equivalent the indispensable Home and End keys are notably absent in a touch interface, perhaps replaced by some non-discoverable gesture I haven't found by guesswork or a google search yet.

      So

  • Lets draw some parallels here... I'd say that point n click UI is most like that of the layout for a controller on a classic console. If you follow a standard UI you have certain buttons and menus that users can identify with. For example," _, [ ] and X " sit in the upper left or right hand corner of most application windows. Users expect these buttons(minimize, maximize and close) and use them regularly. Likewise, a classic controller layout like those from Sony and Microsoft includes directional buttons,
    • by mjwx (966435)

      Where's the point in all this? PC games can have some very confusing control sets. However They havent failed yet. Many gamers prefer them over consoles with a more limited set of controls. I think the confusion over gesture UI will fade and with time more people will learn to accept the nuances

      PC games tend to standardise on WASD. The PC supports control schemes as simple as any console, it also supports hundreds of inputs using key combinations. ARMA and X3 are the biggest culprits in my collection, Shi

  • That's like saying vintage '94 web design was a step back from menu and keystroke driven application design.
  • ... the whole usability issue was a club certain OS/Windowing vendors were using as weapons* against their competition. Lets not start all that crap again.

    *Get your experts to evaluate the competitions apps/platforms. "Oh noes! Three mouse buttons! One mouse button! This simply will not do!"

  • What I saw: Expert's Gay Sexual Interfaces Are a Step Backwards in Usability

    Seriously? LoL

    How much practice is required before you're considered an expert at these homo-erotic interfaces?
    Is there skill quantization "tool", or perhaps a "Queer Eye" review?
    Are the controller's or receptacles aesthetically pleasing?
    Do lesbians with optional strap-ons have an advantage over the rest of us?
    Are Expert heterosexual interfaces not equally as ridiculous?

    I laughed for a good minute before I was disappointe

  • by grouchomarxist (127479) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:45AM (#36247504)

    In the article they say:

    In comments to Nielsen's article about our iPad usability studies, some critics claimed that it is reasonable to experiment with radically new interaction techniques when given a new platform. We agree. But the place for such experimentation is in the lab. After all, most new ideas fail, and the more radically they depart from previous best practices, the more likely they are to fail. Sometimes, a radical idea turns out to be a brilliant radical breakthrough. Those designs should indeed ship, but note that radical breakthroughs are extremely rare in any discipline. Most progress is made through sustained, small incremental steps. Bold explorations should remain inside the company and university research laboratories and not be inflicted on any customers until those recruited to participate in user research have validated the approach.

    I appreciate that they're important contributors to UI design, but their attitude is unrealistic to companies that are trying to ship products, make profit and gain market share. Companies spending too much time perfecting their UI design will go out of business while their competitors are shipping flawed but ultimately usable products.

    • methinks it should be the OS vendors' job to define and enforce guidelines. They are already doing it, just not that well.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        UI guidelines should be clear too.

        Point in case: the menu button in Android. It's not guaranteed to do anything: some apps use it, others not at all, and the ones that use it do not necessarily use it in every activity. I'm also "guilty" of the latter part, because some activities really have a need for extra functions (it's a great way to hide secondary and infrequently used functions such as the preferences from the main UI) and others not at all.

        And the Back button in Android: he argues it should never

    • by Rigrig (922033)

      Companies spending too much time perfecting their UI design will go out of business while their competitors are shipping flawed but ultimately usable products.

      There's a difference between perfecting a UI design and inflicting completely new, experimental ideas on unsuspecting users. Testing which particular gesture would be best for each interaction might take too much time, but completely omitting menus (leaving the only way to accomplish anything to be guessing the right gesture) is something that should've been thought over (especially if your target platform ships with a physical 'menu' button).

  • ... at least it'll get the fatties up off their chairs and MAKE them do a bit more aerobic exercise, so it's not all bad...
  • As a retired UI designer, the referenced article reads like sour grapes. The reasons for the "trouble" as posted (lack of established guidelines / misguided insistence by companies / developer community's ignorance) sounds like whining from a standards organization. Old farts always sound this way when someone younger and more bold come up with something new.
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      He has several good points on where usability needs work, though unfortunately is light on suggesting improvements.

      But you must agree with his main point: touch interfaces need work.

      They're off to a great start, now it's time to discover the nuances of actual use (those that can not be discovered in the lab), and improve from there.

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