Gesture Conflicts: When Swiping Ruins the Usability of Your Website

Posted / 15 August, 2013

Author / Enginess

swipe gesture on trackpad

As digital designers make gesture controls a navigational feature in their website or app, usability conflicts will arise.

Anyone who's used a multi-touch device knows that a quick swipe for an action can make your life easier.

Whether it's pulling down the Notifications menu on iOS or a two-finger swipe 'back' in a browser window from a desktop computer, a simple gesture for a common action makes a big difference.

Now, manufacturers are increasingly making touch-enabled input devices. Notebook computers have multi-touch trackpads, the current generation of mice have touch functionality, and devices like Leap Motion are creating entirely new possibilities for gesture control.

These input devices are supposed to make controlling your computer easier, but as web designers begin to implement gesture controls for websites, conflicts between gestures are going to be on the rise.

The following is a personal example where recurring gesture conflicts are really hampering with the usability of a web application:

  • To control my computer, I use a trackpad on a Mac. The Mac's OS has the sidebar Notification Center feature (pictured below). When I slide with two fingers from the right side of the trackpad, it slides open. notification center
  • In Chrome, when you use a two-finger swipe to the right, it treats it as the browser's 'back' button. A two-finger swipe to the left acts as the browser's 'forward' button. Already, there is potential for conflicts, but that's not where it ends...
  • In an online social media tool I use, sideways scrolling is a nearly mandatory function. When using a trackpad, the most efficient way to scroll between windows is not to grab the actual scroll bar, but to use two fingers and swipe back and forth.
So, there are three different gesture possibilities that a simple swipe action could have, depending on the location of my hand.

I can't even count the number of times I've inadvertently gone back or forward in the browser, ending my session in the application, or accidentally opened the sidebar.

These types of gesture conflicts completely ruin the usability of the application, to the point where the next step is to find the app's replacement.

Let this be a lesson: if it's already difficult enough to get someone to your website – and then keep them there longer than 3 seconds – the last thing you want to do is frustrate them with confusing gesture controls that may be quirky and memorable, but not at all usable.

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