The Gesture Manifesto

A gesture mania is sweeping over us app makers. It has reached a point where some of us boast unique gestures and novel usage of common gestures as a high point of our apps. The media praises these apps for their coolness and people rush to download them. It is only natural for the uninformed app makers to be seduced by this apparent success and get motivated to act their part in innovating gestures.

But, gestures are not all roses. When used without proper understanding gestures can alienate your users and make them get rid of your app with relief. The aim of this manifesto is to provide that understanding and devise a set of guidelines to make your app approachable to users.

If you’re an app maker who knew about the pitfalls of gestures but still are on the road to creating the next pull-to-refresh, by all means, proceed. But if you’re one whose target audience is the average user whom you care about and whom you want to use your app instead of just download it and forget it, but want to use gestures just because every other cool app uses them, you should read further.

Users are goal oriented

Users open your app with a goal in their mind; be it reading the news or booking a ticket or listening to music. Their attention is a very limited resource and they use it to focus on their goals; they pay very little or no attention to your app itself. So, when they come across a situation where they have to think about what to do next they have to divert their attention from their goal to your app. This means that they see your app as an obstruction to reaching their goal.

Gestures are easier and quicker

Gestures are easier and quicker than traditional point-and-click actions. To tap a button you have to first locate it and then precisely control your muscles to hit it correctly. With gestures the entire screen become a button. You don’t have to locate it for it’s present in your attention all the time and you don’t have to exert precise control to hit it for you can hit anywhere on the screen.

But, there is a catch

The catch is you can see a button whereas you cannot see a gesture. To perform a gesture without seeing them you’ll have to recall them from your memory. Recalling a gesture is much harder than recognizing a button.

Gestures should be automatic

For gestures to be easier and quicker you should perform them automaically: you should instantaneously know what gesture to perform and perform it with minimal or no conscious attention to it. In other words, you should do it without thinking about it; just like driving a car.

This can happen only when you’ve had sufficient practice. For sufficient practice you should’ve first learned them and used them so often that they are burned into your long-term memory and becomes automatic. This cannot happen when each app uses its own gestures or use common gestures in its own ways.

Consistency is the key

For gestures to become automatic each and every app should use them consistently. This means apps should,

  1. use a set of standard gestures
  2. use those gestures to perform a standard set of actions

Ideally, gestures and the actions they represent should be consistent across all devices, platforms and apps. But, with the prevalent patent hedging culture this doesn’t seem to happen in the foreseeable future.

So, what to do?

The only way to use gestures without spoiling the users’ experience is to strictly follow the design guidelines of the OS manufacturer. This means:

  1. Use only the gestures specified in the guidelines
  2. Use those gestures to perform only the specified actions
  3. When you think your target audience may not be aware of one of those specified gestures don’t hesitate to ditch it in favor of traditional point and click (example: shaking an iOS phone to undo is neither common nor an elegant soultion; use undo & redo buttons instead)

Care about users. Put gestures in their place.


I invite those who support the Gesture Manifesto to join me and spread the word.

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