I regularly get asked the difference in designing for gesture-based interfaces. I recently addressed this in an article for .net Magazine. This may appear somewhat lazy but why rewrite the written? So here’s a reproduction of the article:-
With a wave of gestural mobile devices and gaming systems flooding the market, more and more people are interacting directly with digital content - click is fast being replaced by tap, flick and pinch.
Microsoft recently announced Project Natal, a sensor-based interface that responds to contact-free gestures such as a wave and a nod. And while we eagerly await this technology to come to market there’s plenty to be excited about already with the launch of Microsoft Surface.
Surface incorporates the naturalness of hand-gesture recognition but also blends reality and virtual reality by enabling users to interact with digital content using ‘real’ physical objects. From a design perspective there are a lot of new principles to master. Designing a Surface experience is not the same as designing for traditional websites.
The key is to avoid retrofitting existing experiences and introduce new ways of thinking that enable new interaction models. For those looking to get involved in this new era of interaction here are some pointers:
Make it finger-friendly
Fingers don¹t have the same level of precision as a mouse, so make sure all interactive elements are sized and spaced to optimise gestural interactions.
Encourage active exploration
Don’t make users memorize how to do things. Make the experience discoverable and reward the user for exploring. Always nudge and entice users to do more.
Enhance the user’s sensory experience
Don’t just focus on visual experiences. Surface doesn't just encourage but mandates a fuller sensory. Use sound to reinforce user interactions and create fuller sensory experiences.
Encourage social participation
Surface moves beyond solitary desktop experiences. Design your application to invite people to join in and encourage person-to-person interactions. Consider the challenges of multi-stranger versus multi-friends scenarios and different levels of task coupling. For example, how do the actions of one user affect the other? What happens when new people approach the table from a different side?
Make it alive
Ensure every action has an immediate response, regardless of how subtle this feedback is. Even if no-one is interacting, don’t let the Surface device sit there lifeless.
Make it magical
Add a certain amount of realism but then augment it further with something that doesn’t exist in the real world. For example, use real-world behaviour such as acceleration but then disrupt the physics in a way that only a digital experience can.
Make the interface invisible
In a Surface experience, the interface shouldn’t be visible as the content becomes the interface. Design an interface-free application that enables users to directly manipulate the digital content.
Remember the enjoyment factor
Playfulness can manifest itself in many forms, such as through copy or interaction design, not to forget playfulness through interaction with other people. Don’t ignore this important dimension in designing engaging and immersive experiences.
Where do we go from here?
Different gestural interfaces will bring different design philosophies and with this fresh and exciting challenges. Erase your mind to a world without GUIs and design with no preconceptions of interactions models that have been. Don’t underestimate what appear to be simple applications - often the simplicity masks the complexity.
For those interested in learning more about Microsoft Surface then I recommend grabbing a copy of the October edition of .net magazine. In the Microsoft Expression Supplement are some excellent articles including a 'Guided Tour of Expression' by Paul Dawson, a guide to 'Building a Prototype using SketchFlow' and many more interesting articles...