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Gorilla arm

Human-factors designers use the term “gorilla arm” to refer to the vast gulf between cool design ideas and how they work in actual use-cases. At the beginning of the 1980s, touch-screens were just getting going, but gorilla-arm more or less killed off large-scale touch-screen research-and-development for many years to come. Only now, with portable devices and short-interaction kiosks are we seeing the resurgence.

But touch-screens aren’t the only technology that suffers from “gorilla arm.” Devices like Microsoft’s Kinect do as well.

Humans aren’t built to hold their arms upwards, outwards or forwards, unsupported for any great length of time. Add any repetitive kinds of motion to that and before too long you look start to like a gorilla in posture, and feel like one afterwards. Thus the term gorilla-arm was born, reminding us that however cool the technology was, we’d implemented it in seriously wrong ways.

Gaming with motion-sensing devices (eg: Nintendo Wii and Sony Move) isn’t much of a big deal, though you’ll notice your overall arm endurance wearing out sooner than if you’re just hanging onto an ordinary controller.

Vertical touch-screens and camera-based gaming (eg: Microsoft Kinect) are rather rougher on the arms, neck and shoulders. It’s somewhat mitigated by a variety of motion, but actually going through the motions of a user-interface for any length of time brings the gorilla-arm syndrome in with a vengeance. Cameras want us to make specific motions and to do them nice and large. Our arms really don’t want to do that so much. You’ll note that software that uses the Kinect tends to be very limited in even allowing that sort of thing, except in non-routine ways.

I don’t know what user-interfaces are going to look like in ten years, but I’m willing to bet that interfaces like the Kinect will have dropped into the little leagues, along with vertical touch-screens.

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Categories: Opinion, Technology.

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