Hand Gestures on a Mobile Interface

My thumb hurts.  It hurts like it used to when I was a Nintendo fanboy.  It hurts from overuse, from my constant attachment and interaction with my iPhone.

So, I was really excited to see the fabulous Smashing Magazine link me through to some mobile interface research from UX Matters called “How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices?” Although the data is not the freshest (it’s a year and a half old), it is nonetheless an eye-opening read.  And, in part to keep track of some of the data and in part to highlight what I think is important, I thought I’d write up a little synopsis…

A 49% One-Handed World.

UX Matters made over 1,300 “observations” of people in the wild on the street, in stores, on trains and buses, etc using their smartphones.  I love seeing how people interact with their devices and what these observations show do not disappoint.

For example, of the 60+% who were clearly interacting with their screens (eliminating the 22% clearly on the phone and the nearly 19% passively listening) they found that users interacted with their phones in one of three ways:

49% held and interacted with One Hand (right hand 67%, left hand 33%)

36% Cradled it in one hand and interacted with the other

15% Interacted with Two Hands

Half the universe of users is engaging with their smartphone with one hand.  Not only is this significant when thinking about mobile screen design, it also explains why my thumb hurts!


This illustration from the article clearly shows some danger zones in mobile-screen design.  Both show some clear out-of-reach zones (red).  Yellow shows that the thumb needs to contort and stretch.  The green comfort zone — no stretching or twisting required — looks like it takes up less than half the screen.  And in both, the safest place for primary navigation is the bottom-left.  This is like the web but upside down.

Interesting, the data they collected for two-handed users shows similar danger zones at the top of the screen.  So, that’s 64% of users need to stretch their thumb to reach the upper right-hand corner.

If you are interested in mobile design, this article is well-worth a read.  Head over to “How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices?” on UX Matters for the whole story.

And what does this have to do with my ailing thumb?  Well, it stands to reason that if it actually causes pain to use your app, that’s going to stand in the way of long-term use.  So, it’s worth thinking about, as I am thinking about this now with my own projects, how much pain and misery are you causing by forcing people to contort their thumb to reach the upper right-hand corner with their thumbs?