• 03.03.10

How Will We Learn to Use the Multi-Touch Interfaces of the Future?

A new system of icons for explaining multi-touch interfaces makes you wonder: Is there a better solution around the corner?


Learning the iPhone is pretty simple, because there aren’t that many gestures that the iPhone actually recognizes–pinch and zoom, drag and scroll, tap and select. But you can bet that the multi-touch interfaces of the coming years will be far more complex, involving an entirely new grammar of movement. And presents a formidable challenge for any graphic designer working today.


You can see an inkling of what the solution will look like Gesturecons, a free new library of gesture icons intended for use in instruction manuals, how-to’s, and the like.


They’re pretty simple and easier to grasp, for sure. But they’re also relatively primitive–you can easily imagine more elegant solutions that don’t require such big, literal representation of a hand, over and over again.

Which itself poses an interesting challenge for graphic designers: I’m betting that the first person to create something dead simple, universally readable will foster a standard in gesture instructions that will be as ubiquitous–and influential–as the London Underground maps designed by Harry Beck. The solution there? To render station connections and subways lines with maximum clarity, Beck stripped away any pretense of showing geographic distance. What he produced was something like the circuit maps that engineers use, to diagram electrical assemblies. That stripping away of superfluous detail is a masterpiece of visual communication.

So the race is on: Who’ll be the Harry Beck of the 21st century?

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.