The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #113 — Some Gestures Are More Natural Than Others

photo of someone touching a tablet screenTell a friend about the last time you went to visit a family member, and you’ll notice that you’re moving your hands and arms while telling the story. Your body is gesturing without you even thinking about it. It’s often thought that people gesture while they talk to convey information. Although that’s true, the latest theory is that the most important reason people gesture is because when you gesture you think better. (It’s an example of embodied cognition which I’ll cover in an upcoming blog post).

Gesturing to manipulate a device — Now we use gestures to use some of our devices (smartphones, tablets, smart watches, mixed reality).  Designers have been designing interactions with keyboards, mice, trackballs, track pads, pens, and touching with fingers. Moving forward we’ll use even more complicated hand, finger, and body movements as gestures for interacting with device interfaces. It’s now possible for people to “grab” something on a screen by making a grabbing motion in the air, or hold out a hand with the palm facing out to tell a robot to stop.

Natural gestures versus forced gestures — many gestures come naturally, others don’t. Moving a finger clockwise to signify that you want to rotate something is a natural gesture, as is holding up your hand with your palm out to tell someone or something to stop. Swiping with two fingers to mean one thing and swiping with three fingers to mean something else are not natural gestures.

Should people have to learn new gestures that aren’t natural to them in order to interact with devices? — You could argue that people often learn new movements to interact with devices. Many people type quickly on a keyboard without thinking about it, yet this is something they had to learn. On the other hand, if you have to read a manual to find out what gestures to use in order to use your latest gadget, that might not be a good thing.

What do you think?– Do we invest enough design time, energy, and knowledge when designing in gestures? Will people “just learn it” or should we be studying and applying natural gesturing more?


  • Feel free to gesture when you talk. It will help you think.
  • If you are designing a product that works with gestures spend some time first studying gestures that are natural and use those as much as possible.
  • Test your gesture designs out before you commit to them in hardware and software development.


If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #114 — Great Stories Release Brain Chemicals
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