Tap, Tap, Flick, Fling: How Gestures Change Digital Experiences

They Offer Interactive Experiences, Without Mouse and Keyboard

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Garrick Schmitt
Garrick Schmitt
Tap. Flick. Fling. Slide. Spin. Pinch. Welcome to the new, refreshingly human language of digital experiences.

As anyone who has bowled a few frames on a Nintendo Wii or flicked through a series of pictures on an Apple iPhone knows, gestural and multitouch interfaces are a thrilling and surprisingly intuitive way to interact with technology. And once consumers get used to ditching the mouse and keyboard they are going to demand much, much more of it.

But will brand marketers be ready? With recall rates at an all-time low, they can't afford not to be. The technology, which is built on accelerometers, sensors and the like, is finally ready for the mainstream. And it just might be what the industry needs to start delivering the breakthrough brand creative that we've all been clamoring for.

To understand what's possible, to see how brands can and will behave, it helps to take a look at what's worked so far:

CNN: Any discussion of gestural interfaces needs to start with Jeff Han and CNN. Han, founder of Perceptive Pixel, introduced multitouch to the mainstream with his talk at the TED conference in 2006. CNN tapped his agency to create John King's multitouch screen on CNN for the presidential election, which made the broadcasts historical for more than one reason.

AT&T: AT&T was one of the early adopters of multitouch, making Microsoft's Surface table an integral part of the company's future mobile retail experience. Now, in select locations, consumers are able to place various phones on the table, compare features, browse rate plans and explore coverage areas by simply sliding their fingers across the screen.

Orange: Searching for an exciting new way to engage consumers, Orange looked to U.K. ad shop The Alternative to create a gesture-based and "touch free" interactive shop window. The window is activated when the shop is closed and lets passers-by check news, watch music videos or film trailers and play games -- all by waving their hands.

Levi's: Dockers recently made news by creating a "shakable" mobile advertisement that is presented within an iPhone application. The ad, which gets served as you progress through levels on games like iBowl and iGolf, allows the user to literally shake the phone to make a dancer wearing Docker's khakis to dance -- clearly this gives interactive advertising a whole new meaning.

Boxee: The much talked about tech start-up is creating a slick, new internet-based online video viewing experience and is trying to differentiate by tapping both gestures and multitouch for its just released controller -- an ingenious little application that turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a fully functioning remote control.

Siftables: Going even further afield, there are a whole new set of gestural computing technologies that are close to production. Siftables, born out of the MIT Media Lab, caused a stir at TED this year by making digital data physical with cookie-sized devices that look like children's blocks. Users can manipulate them, whether by piling, grouping or sorting them, to create different applications. Now being stewarded by Taco Labs, you can expect to see these put into play soon.

We are still just scratching the surface here. More multitouch is on the way (Microsoft is making multitouch a core part of Windows 7) and just as technology companies are rushing to build new platforms and devices to support gestures, brands need to move quickly as well. Few, surprisingly, have done so beyond the occasional one-off or prototype so far.

There is much for us all to still learn about gestural computing. And there will definitely be a few things to avoid -- substituting "Tap Here" for "Click Here" must be on the top of any "don't list" worth its salt.

One thing is certain, however: Gestural experiences will become our digital future. They will enable us to create rich, memorable experiences and engage consumers in ways that we can't yet even conceive. These experiences will define some brands, and become transformational for others. And very soon, what gets created beyond the browser will matter just as much as what we can create within it.

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Garrick Schmitt is group VP-experience planning at Razorfish and the agency's global lead for user experience. He publishes Feed, Razorfish's annual consumer experience report, and writes and edits the Razorfish Digital Design Blog. In his spare time he flails about on Twitter @gschmitt. CNN, Levis and AT&T are Razorfish clients.

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