Spontaneous gesture control reveals cultural differences
The new Samsung Galaxy S4 can do it, Smart TVs too, and the Xbox Kinect for a long time: gesture control. The service company Facit Digital is now publishing a global study on cultural differences in gesture control for consumer electronics. The bottom line: Gesture control is being enthusiastically received worldwide. However, user tests at national level are indispensable for acceptance of internationally marketed products.
A total of 18 countries were involved in the study under the umbrella of UX Fellows, the network for user experience research founded by Facit Digital with currently 23 partners. In the case of basic functions such as volume or program selection, surprisingly similar spontaneous gestures were found around the world. For more complex functions, however, there were significant differences depending on the country.
It investigated which gestures people from different cultures would spontaneously use to operate a modern television. In 18 countries – Germany, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Italy, Canada, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the USA – a total of 360 interviews were conducted with consumer electronics buyers with an affinity for brands carried out.
Are semantic gestures also understood?
The background to the study: Gesture control in free space enables users to interact with devices in an even more natural way. Game consoles such as the Xbox Kinect, but also smart TVs and smartphones are already using this technology today. The first step is to make pointing gestures in which a finger or hand serves as a mouse replacement. Semantic gestures go one step further, in the movement of which there is already a recognizable message. What is a harmless everyday gesture in one culture can be a dangerous insult in another. If televisions could capture semantic gestures, would they understand users, regardless of whether they are Indian, Mexican or German?
Regarding the results: Many everyday gestures have shown themselves to be very different in different cultures. For some communication occasions, however, there was global agreement. The gestures for “I’ll call you” or “I’ll write you an email” are practically identical for tech-savvy people in all cultures.
Basic universal sign language exists
The same was found in the operation of televisions. “We were surprised that very similar gestures are spontaneously chosen all over the world for basic functions in television such as volume or program, pausing films or fast-forwarding. There seems to be something like a basic universal sign language for consumer electronics in people’s minds, ”says Michael Wörmann, Managing Director at Facit Digital and initiator of the study. The hand movements used are evidently derived from everyday gestures, but also from classic computer metaphors or from tablet PCs.
With more complex functions such as opening an electronic program guide or sharing the current program via social media, however, there are clear differences between the cultures – but also many creative ideas on how these functions could be triggered with simple hand movements. “It is interesting that we could not identify any regionally uniform non-verbal behavior. For internationally marketed products this means that user tests at national level are essential if acceptance is to be ensured, ”emphasizes Christian Bopp, Managing Partner of Facit Digital.
In fact, the spontaneous interaction with a technical device was experienced very differently depending on the country: While the French or Chinese seem to have no problems thinking up gestures, the British and Koreans found it much more difficult with non-verbal communication. The idea of operating entertainment electronics using gestures was generally enthusiastically received in all countries. The prerequisite is that this is technically reliable and based on people’s natural communication behavior. Cultural conditions must be taken into account at the state level.