Users Are Better Off Designing Their Own UI Gestures

It sounds like design heresy, but researchers have found that users have an easier time remembering the gestures they created themselves.

We need designers because the peons generally don’t know any better. It’s an elitist thought, sure, but it’s often true. Give the average person a chance to design a car, and you get The Homer. Give the average person a chance to design a smartphone UI, and you get Android. (I kid, I kid!)


But researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have discovered that, when it comes to all those swipes, taps, and squiggles we use to gesture through our apps, users may know better than designers. From the paper:

We compared three types of gesture sets: user-defined gesture sets, gesture sets designed by the [app] authors, and random gesture sets in three studies with 33 participants in total. We found that user-defined gestures are easier to remember, both immediately after creation and on the next day (up to a 24% difference in recall rate compared to pre-designed gestures)…

…In addition, participants significantly preferred user-defined gesture sets, and they thought creating user-defined gesture sets took less time than learning pre-designed gesture sets (when in fact the actual time difference between the two conditions was negligible). In general, users experienced user-defined gestures as easier, more fun and less effortful.

Better recall, less perceived effort, and more fun when users create their own gestures–that’s a trio of feedback points you’d want for any user experience. But I do wonder, what happens three weeks in, when a user is stuck making some complex kanji character every time they just want to delete an email? Will they blame your app (and stop using it), or will they blame themselves (and simply change it)?

I’m also curious if there’s a way to marry all these benefits of user creation with design efficiency. I imagine something like a build-your-own pizza bar, offering a user unlimited customization but giving a nudge toward successful pairings like the pineapple/Canadian bacon on a Hawaiian pizza. Oh, and on that note, next time you order a Hawaiian pizza, swap out the Canadian bacon with pepperoni. It’s way better that way. As for how you should deal with your next mail app, heck if I know.

Read the study here.

[Hat tip: MIT Technology Review]

[IMAGE: Fire, Emily Hoyer via Flickr]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach