The UX of Multitouch Ergonomics

I’ve been using the iPad for a little while now, trying to push myself in terms of using apps with multi-touch interfaces.  Craig Villamor, Luke Wroblewski, Dan Willis and Jennifer Rhim have done an excellent job of documenting the gestures a user can perform.  I’ve also been playing with the new Sencha Touch, which is ExtJS for the iPad/iPhone.

The other day, I walked over to a desktop PC running Windows 7 and switched gears. Immediately, I noticed a relaxation of my wrists, shoulders, arms and neck.  It was drastic and surprising.  I hadn’t realized how uncomfortable and non-ergonomic all of the gesturing was.  When I am using a mouse, my hand is barely moving and supported by the desk.  When I type, my wrists are in the proper position (ergonomic microsoft keyboard – thank you!).

This reaction started me thinking about mobile ergonomics.  When I see people using these devices, they are often hunched over the screen with their chin touching their chest elevating one hand in an awkward position and swiping.  This is disturbing in consideration of the overall penetration of the smart phone/device market.  Fast Company wrote recently about how “dumb phones” still comprise the majority of phone sales, despite the press hype around Windows, Android, Palm and iPhone cool releases.  If the majority of people are going to use a smart phone one day, I believe the ergonomics will become a major problem.

My mother, for example, has 1 inch fingernails.  She tried to use a multi-touch device and could not.  Fingernails don’t activate the screen at all.  So the only way to make the device work was to hit the screen with her knuckle.  Imagine a woman with their hand curled into a ball trying to do “pinch” with two knuckles.  I feel like Quasimodo just emulating it.  Sanctuary!!!  It’s like using chopsticks with one stick in each hand.  And you need a third hand to hold the thing.

As designers, we often get caught up in the hype of new devices and new possibilities.  It’s important to step back once in a while and ask the famous question:  Would my mom be able to it? I think the ergonomics of mobile devices still have a long way to go.

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