TouchUI: The Misunderstood Paradigm – Part 1

Everyone has a vision of the ultimate mobile UI, but few are in a position to actually implement improvements. Of those who are, some are either unaware of or dismiss user interaction history and studies on how interfaces work.

Global Moxie founder Josh Clark proclaims that “buttons were an inspired UI hack.” Among other things, he calls for more familiar human gestures that allow people to work with less visual clutter on small screens and direct manipulation of content.

The SOOMY Tao Rule

Clark stated:

… after their tenth session, interrupt them with a brief (and easily dismissed) cue that leads them right to their destination.

I do not agree that you should interrupt a person working. This actually drops the user out of the “use” of the app and into its “navigation.” That’s what the “helpful” MS Office paperclip did, and look where it is today. The idea is to Stay Out Of MY way (SOOMY Tao), and let me discover features. Nudge the user along by giving them carrots of enlightenment, not “sticks” of interruption: Perform the action while overlaying either a visual cue or short blurb about the shortcut. Forcing someone to dismiss a helpful dialog is not helpful.

I agree that you do not need to assault a person with an intro video or infographic right away. Doing that would violate the SOOMY Tao rule. However, more advanced features should have a quick instructional example or graphic, such as a question mark icon that pulls up information when the user is ready to learn.

A developer could add a setting asking if the person would like to enable a “learn while doing” mode at first launch, defaulting to “no” with a quick message that learning mode can be enabled at anytime in the settings.

Also, when an app launches in iOS, a splash screen comes up. Developers often put up a screenshot to make it look like their app has loaded quickly, or a larger picture of the app icon. They can put whatever they want there: Why not application tips? Not using the splash screen to educate the user is a wasted opportunity.

An example is a quick blurb: “Use AppX faster: Click the ‘?’ on any control to find out how.” A question mark could fade in next to a button when it’s held for over a second and show information on, say, alternate gestures or other tips. An information-rich splash screen might add a bit of visual clutter, but enabling learning mode — or disabling it — could swap out that screen forever.

Pushing a Button is a Gesture

Josh Clark forgets that pushing a button is a gesture that can do infinite things. The learning curve is relegated to understanding what each button does and where it is — not how to use it. Gestures that do not perfectly imitate actual motor movements do not have this luxury.

Buttons are another example of conveniences added, not just for remote control. Clark makes the point that buttons are more convenient than climbing a ladder and screwing in a light bulb. I agree, it was the switch’s convenience that sold the light bulb in the first place. I would much rather push a button than make a match striking and lighting gesture to turn on a light.

Over 40 Million Disabled Left Out

More importantly, I do not think Clark considers people who can barely move their hands. A swipe might be easy for you, but what about someone with advanced Parkinson’s Disease, partial paralysis, Cerebral Palsy or other impairments that limit their available gestures? It is because of these people that I advocate user-customizable interface overlay sets and multiple methods of accomplishing the same action. The iOS Calendar buttons are still there, but you can also swipe. The inclusion of one method of interaction does not necessitate removing other methods. If anything, let users decide to remove the clutter when they are comfortable.

The Interface is Transparent and Familiar

Clark also says the “Message is the medium,” reversing Marshall McLuhan’s declaration of “The medium is the message.” It does not quite fit, but it is a lot catchier than “The interface is embedded within the message.” McLuhan understood communication and how the way in which one communicates affects how the message is decoded. The interface is directly related to how something is perceived as well. A good interface will increase an app’s perceived value, while a bad interface can easily kill it. But the message is still the message. How the message is manipulated — whether directly or indirectly — should depend on a person’s preference. Options are a good thing.

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