Gestural interfaces: a step backwards in usability

June 10, 2011 — Leave a comment
Donald A. Norman and Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman group argue about the usability of today’s gestural user interfaces.

One step forward, two steps back.

The usability crisis is upon us, once again. We suspect most of you thought it was over. After all, HCI certainly understands how to make things usable, so the emphasis has shifted to more engaging topics, such as exciting new applications, new technological developments, and the challenges of social networks and ubiquitous connection and communication. Well you are wrong.

“In a recent column for Interactions Norman pointed out that the rush to develop gestural interfaces – “natural” they are sometimes called – well-tested and understood standards of interaction design were being overthrown, ignored, and violated.

Recently, Raluca Budui and Hoa Loranger from the Nielsen Norman group performed usability tests on Apple’s iPad, reaching much the same conclusion. The new applications for gestural control in smart cellphones (notably the iPhone and the Android) and the coming arrival of larger screen devices built upon gestural operating systems (starting with Apple’s iPad) promise even more opportunities for well-intended developers to screw things up. […]

There are several important fundamental principles of interaction design that are completely independent of technology:
· Visibility (also called perceived affordances or signifiers)
· Feedback
· Consistency (also known as standards)
· Non-destructive operations (hence the importance of undo)
· Discoverability: All operations can be discovered by systematic exploration of menus
· Scalability. The operation should work on all screen sizes, small and large.
· Reliability. Operations should work. Period. And events should not happen randomly.

All these are rapidly disappearing from the toolkit of designers, aided, we must emphasize, by the weird design guidelines issued by Apple, Google, and Microsoft.”

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