• 03.29.12

All Hands On Tech: The Real Digital Elite

Whose hand is that pinching, swiping, tapping, and dragging in ads for everyone from Apple to Bump? We poke deep inside Silicon Valley to discover the latest digital innovation in modeling.

All Hands On Tech: The Real Digital Elite

A hand swipes left to right, and a new iPad comes to life. The features are flawless and smooth, the curves are soft, and the movements are fluid. No, not the Apple device. We’re talking about the hand model caressing its screen in ads for this and similar tech devices and services.


Lots of people talk about the booming tech sector creating jobs for developers, engineers, and designers. Fewer talk about jobs created for people who hold all of these touchscreen devices and multi-touch-powered apps in ads: hand models. For Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Apple and Amazon and all kinds of scrappy startups, members of this deeply moisturized elite class have represented the human factor in the marketing of cold, lifeless services and gadgets–in YouTube ads and TV spots and on billboards, websites, and press images.

Typically, the casting of these supple specimens has been left to professionals who travel in well-manicured circles. But some Silicon Valley types have started asking their own most flawlessly fingered employees to handle the jobs. And a few have operated like digital Dr. Frankensteins, using the tech they know so well to mash up the best attributes of multiple in-house finger-jockeys.

In the ads for one Silicon Valley startup, which did not want to be named for this article, the single hand featured in an ad is actually an amalgam of several employees’ hands, pieced together digitally. Imperfections can always be improved by another set of hands, and the best parts win, say sources. Employee hands that are deemed worthy for these duties are even given nicknames–think “happy hands” from Napoleon Dynamite.

David Lieb, CEO and cofounder of Bump, the in-person smartphone sharing app, says his company uses employees’ hands, but just individual people’s paws, not morphed mitts. “We haven’t reached that level of sophistication. I used to be one of the hand models, but I bite my nails too much, so I’ve been disqualified,” he says, laughing.

Sadie Bascom, Bump‘s tech evangelist, describes Bump’s hand-modeling process as organic. “Really our criteria is that your nails look okay, and that you don’t have any cuts or blemishes on your hands. We try to get two hands that look good together–generally a man’s [hand] and a woman’s–but it really depends on who can take an hour or so out of their day,” she says. “It’s different people every time. We do a little bit of color touch-up if needed, but it’s mostly just kept as is.”

New York-based startup GroupMe said they use the hands of two employees. But when asked whether these two employees volunteered, whether they were randomly selected, or whether they were found to have particularly model-esque hands, GroupMe declined to comment, apparently not wanting to reveal any secret (or disturbing?) practices. (J.P. Prewitt from Zoolander anyone?)

Apple is said to use digitally enhanced hands in its ads, and there are rumors that it employs a robotic hand in some of its marketing, although at least one other source disputes the claim.


[ Image: Flickr user Matt M.]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.