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I'm having an argument with a colleague of mine. It has never made sense to me why someone would implement multiple gestures that perform the same function in a mobile app. Gestures depending on "switches" and "states" are one thing, but in the general case i've always strictly considered it to be anti-pattern; however, to make his case he referenced the Facebook app on iOS (v12.0+), where a user can choose to click "chat icon" on the top right of the screen, or swipre-right-to-left on the screen. Facebook's success makes me question my originally held world-view on the matter.

At the end of the day, a developer is free to do whatever they want; but is there a general consensus within the UX community on the question?

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It depends on how you do that exactly.

If you have one action at different locations of the app and the user has to use gesture 1 in location 1 but has to use gesture 2 in location 2 this is VERY bad. The user has to remember which gesture does what where.

If you allow the user to use multiple gestures for one specific action and all of these gestures do the same thing, that is not necessarily bad. It allows the user to do the gesture he likes / is used to, without having to learn a specific gesture for your app. So a user that is used to perform that action in other apps using gesture 1 will not need to learn anything, while another user that is used to use gesture 2 has no difficulties either.

I often have the problem that there is something I could do with a gesture, but I have no idea what the gesture is, so I can't perform that action using the quick gesture. For example I only learned of the two-finger-swipe-down-action on the notification bar in Android 4.4. So I would rather recommend to support multiple gestures for the same action wherever useful.

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I think there a few very solid reasons to allow one area of content to be accessed by multiple gestures. User education and the introduction of new features being two of them.

In the Facebook example you mention, I think the chat icon serves as a stepping stone. After touching the icon and witnessing the animation / location of the friends list, Facebook may be anticipating that users will pickup on the swipe and use the gesture instead of the icon moving forward. Perhaps the chat icon will be removed in future versions, if a significant number of users are adapting to using the swipe gesture.

  • Interesting. I hadn't thought of feature depreciation or introduction; however, i'd argue those would fall into my (poorly defined) "States/Switches" category, where the button is in a 'state' of depreciation, even though it doesn't change during the session. – Noob Saibot Jul 18 '14 at 20:33
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Multiple user actions to get to the same effect is not necessarily bad. The chat button is the obvious way, the swipe is the fast way.

An analogy on the desktop would be menu items (obvious) and keyboard shortcuts (fast). (I don't think anyone's ever suggested keyboard shortcut's are any kind of anti-pattern, but not positive.)

Of course on a touch UI there are limited input actions available so you have to be more judicious. If you overload it with many non-obvious magic shortcuts there's too much potential for accidental input that can get the user lost, so reserve them for the most accessed features.

  • I'd say the same holds true for keyboard shortcuts. E.g. the Intel GPU configuration tool introduces a system-wide easy to (accidentally) reach shortcut for flipping the whole screen by 90 degrees. This is an action that does not need a shortcut at all, since it is not something that is used frequently, especially on any non-tablet device. But since it is rather easy to accidentally hit, users are often left trying to google with the screen rotated by 90 degrees how to reset that setting. – Dakkaron Mar 23 at 20:05
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Very interesting question.

I think this pattern may probably help different kind of users to feel instantly familiar. Mentioned facebook chat icon is obviously the same icon I can see on the website. So first time I open the facebook App, I won't be confused about where the chat is hidden but I will immediately see the icon which teach me this. Next time I can use gesture which is IMHO for power users. I can't imagine my mum to swipe. She is happy to tap. :))

Another example can be double tap gesture and pinch to zoom gesture. Both are used for zooming picture. I think they came from different platforms and different type of users will use either one or the other.

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