Most digital products suck because you can’t get your hands on them (literally)

The problem with most digital products is that you can’t touch them. Let me go out on a limb here and say that touching is one of the most basic human.. wants (can the word ‘want’ be noun-ed? I don’t know, but you know what I mean). Think about a red bench with a sign saying ‘wet paint’. Think about bubble wrap. Think about a baby who wants to touch everything around him, with his hands and many times his mouth.

That’s why multi-touch is an awesome thing. And this is also the direction I think more and more digital products will take. And if you make a digital product, maybe thinking about this principle will help you improve the experience.

Here are some examples where products are trying to get it right. First, a physical product:


Medium does a good job by letting you highlight and comment directly where the content is written. Just select the text, and the highlighting bar appears there.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.06.06 AM

Similarly, on clicking the comment button, the comment appears right next to the text, instead of somewhere below.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.07.47 AMThis makes the interaction experience much more powerful. It’s a simple idea, but a lot many content platforms do not implement it. However, even this can be enhanced (given it matches business priorities). While there is an option to highlight text, there is no option in Medium to ‘like’ or ‘favorite’ a piece of text. Or even further, like Facebook, specific pieces of content could have a set of emojis. One could ‘react’ to a specific piece of text. This would give very rich data and help in filtering content according to user preferences.

This could be a UI challenge, but I think there will be more products like this. Facebook has already taken the lead.

While text is great, this would be even more awesome when done to graphs and charts. Right now, when manipulating them, you have to click a lot of buttons. For example, getting two axes to combine on a graph can be very complicated. And similarly, arranging charts on a sheet is a bit of a crude process. What if you could just hold the charts (as of they were printouts), and just move them around? Here are some raw sketches I made to show this concept:


And what if, like moving charts, we could just put charts on top of each other, somewhat like this?

People who use iOS will see that this is similar to moving apps around on the home screen, and merging them into folders. The same idea can also be applied to dashboards. Of course, this would be a big engineering challenge, possibly involving some AI/ML. But I think this should be possible, and definitely very valuable.

There are many more examples of digital products which have applied this principle well, and many more who haven’t.

But I guess in the future we will see a clearer movement of ‘hands-on’ interfaces where we can touch and shape things just like we can in the physical world (or better).

2 thoughts on “Most digital products suck because you can’t get your hands on them (literally)

  1. Pingback: Another Example of Direct Manipulation – Curated Intelligence

  2. Pingback: Direct manipulation redux / Jony Ive – Curated Intelligence

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