Global Gestures & Electronics NUI


At a time when Leap Motion has gained considerable interest from consumers and game consoles like the Xbox Kinect are already using gesture controls, there is a potential for a growing language of gestures to be incorporated into consumer electronics interactions. In 2012, UX Fellows undertook an exploratory cross-cultural study to better understand spontaneous gesture behavior across cultures. UX Fellows is a global network of 17 different UX agencies.

My role: In partnership with 17 different agencies in different countries (20 interviews per country), we conducted 360 interviews with tech-savvy participants across 18 countries. I was a lead on the investigation, representing gotomedia.

We investigated spontaneous and semantic hand gestures across cultures that people could potentially use for their consumer electronic devices such as TV's. The key questions included:

  • What are the most common gestures for typical TV-related commands?
  • Do any of the chosen gestures have high international commonality? Which, if any, are particularly culture-specific? Is it possible to identify any clusters amongst regions?
  • How difficult is it for potential users to imagine gestures that could be used as commands for controlling CE gestures?

Gestures across cultures

Our initial assumptions included the idea that there would exist the same or similar gestures used in clusters of countries, based on geographical proximity, similar language, and cultures. On the contrary, our assumptions were proven incorrect, especially regarding more complex gestures, which varied widely across countries. As commands increased in complexity of the task, we observed participants having difficulties in applying gestures with common meaning. 

Through the analysis of the consumer electronics gestures, it was possible to identify three broad classifications: 

  • Gestures with high intercultural commonalities
  • Gestures with medium intercultural commonality
  • Gestures with low intercultural commonality

Overall as expected, our participants found it more difficult to imagine these gestures (average difficulty = 2.5) than everyday gestures (average difficulty = 1.5).  

We also observed that while there were many participants who preferred semantic gestures, there were a reasonable group who resorted to pointing gestures for more complex commands. This means that gestural languages should be investigated within individual markets with needs for customization considered. It is safe to say that a combination of semantic gestures, pointing gestures, an classic remote controls may help with reconciling these differences, with a preference for semantic gestures if possible.

Users familiar with consumer electronics and touch screens share a common experience when it comes to basic technology socialization. While there exists a common limited gestural language for basic commands with consumer electronics, it is very important to fully investigate culture differences when it comes to designing natural user interfaces for a particular market.

To read the full brief, please visit UX Fellows here.