Multi-touch will change everything

For years, web designers have been working within a firmly established jig. Books have been published, studies have been conducted and businesses have been built on a handful of fundamental interface design principles. Many of these rules have been written based on the understanding that a mouse will be serving as the primary tool in carrying out the user’s will. What happens if this lowest common denominator for user interface design is replaced with a finger tip? Multi-touch technology will soon change the web more CSS3 or even HTML5.


Mouse Clicks VS Finger Tips

If I squint, I can get my mouse pointer accurate down to a single pixel. The tip of my right index finger measures 30px X 40px. That makes my finger 1200 times less precise than my mouse pointer. Does that mean that multi-touch technology is a step backwards? No. After all, user interface design is all about making things easier and more natural. Multi-touch does this by removing the middle man, in this case a mouse & cursor. Any gripe people have with multi-touch as it grows won’t be because they miss carefully positioning a mouse pointer to click a link. It will be because web designers have crammed too much on a page, or made link buttons too small for fingers to easily tap.

Scrolling VS Zooming & Tapping

Until now, websites have moved vertically, like a filmstrip, through a browser window. This specific linear method of engaging content has made a web designer’s job relatively easy. Counting on the fact that users are limited to scrolling from top to bottom while viewing the entire width of the page, important items can be placed at the top of the page (above the fold) while additional content can be arrayed below, or in a sidebar. With multi-touch, DIVs are the new fold. Being able to tap on a section to zoom in will allow users to focus only on the content they want to see. This quadrant based page browsing will make skipping over uninteresting content & advertisements much easier.

Multi-touch VS Mobile VS Standard

These are two very different areas of interface design that have a lot in common. Many of my iPhone apps already cater to finger tips with their big buttons & super simple navigation. So this begs the question, do we need to design a mobile and a multi-touch version of a website? I don’t think so. I think the core structure of what the regular version of a website will need to adapt to fit fingertips, which means everything will have to be redone, re-imagined… re-figured out.

A Change in Posture

During the Apple Keynote, Steve Jobs wasn’t hunched over a desk pecking characters into a keyboard. He was sitting on a couch, casually flipping through content on his iPad. To an extent, web design has been all about what we want users to see and when. We’ve been orchestrating the user-experience from click in to click out. With multi-touch the tables have turned. With a brand new set of gestures, users will be calling the shots as they tap, swipe, pinch and zoom. It will now be up to the web design community to study up & do their best to follow along.