2 Neurones & 1 Camera

Olivier Thereaux

Can't Touch This

My latest piece in the Pheromone Lab looks at touch devices, their rising popularity and what it means for Web design and accessibility. It’s in French, so here is a translation into English…

An article published this morning in the NY Times, titled « To Win Over Users, Gadgets Have to Be Touchable» notes how quickly tactile interfaces have been adopted by consumers, so quickly indeed that they now are frustrated whenever a device does not react, as they would expect, to a swipe or a tap.

This is what Sony discovered through user testing:

The latest is a new line of Sony e-readers that the company will introduce Wednesday. For the first time, all have touch screens; Sony decided on the technology after watching person after person in focus groups automatically swipe the screen of its older, nontouch e-readers.

This trend has a number of implication, not only in the design of new appliances, but also in interface design. For a few months now, the design work of my team over at Pheromone has been evolving with this new trend. It matters when we design interfaces for mobile or ubiquitous services, since most of mobile devices that will be used to access such services happen to use tactile screens. But the trend has also been influencing how we design for the Web in general.

Finger Prince by opusinfinity, on Flickr

For years now, Web design has been offering interactions specifically designed for mouse usage. Whenever a user hovers on certain zones of a Web viewport, many functions can be triggered: offer contextual information, open a menu, indicate the presence of an hyperlin, or the possibility to interact with the content or the interface.

Everything changes with the ubiquity of Web-connected devices for which the main user interface is no longer a mouse and pointer, but a tactile screen. Say good bye to the possibility for users to drag their mouse pointer all around the screen looking for extra information and possible interactions. And even if they still have a future as a “bonus” for advanced users (with a mouse or trackpad), “:hover” functions have done their time, and as Andy Croll writes, most interfaces are due to migrate from hover-and-click to tap.

This may all be a good thing. For ages, evangelists of best Web practices have been noting that it is best – for the sake of many Web users – not to offer any interaction or information solely through “:hover” or any other action needing a mouse. Indeed, many users do not have enough neuro-motor control to apply subtle movements to a mouse. Others with a limited or absence sense of sight access the Web entirely with a keyboard and speech synthesis.

Many Web developers have already taken these accessibility needs into account, but countless others were having trouble understanding why they should “amputate their design” for a small percentage of people with various handicaps. Recent proliferation of tactile interfaces change the deal. It brigs along a new demographics that is “mouse-challenged”: a young and often rich audience, eager to adopt new technologies. And this changes everything.


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Des fumerolles aux fortifications, de frontenac au parlement, trois fois le tour du vieux Québec

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Reinventing the Blog


In the past weeks, my team has been using a live subject for experiments. Unethical, I know, but how fun! We are basically taking the Pheromone Lab, now almost a venerable blog with a year or so in existence, and seeing how we can push it in a completely different direction: as a blog it was a very nice repository of thoughts and ideas. We knew some people were reading, but it felt like a museum in there.

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