I’m speaking at UX Scotland and Birmingham design festival in June, and would like to share some ideas like this.

For this post, I tried something different. I scribbled down some notes (in pictures) and asked on Twitter and Instagram if people would be interested in reading a post about this idea.

People made warm and positive noises. So I carried the notes around for a while longer.

Case study: gestures as memory tools for teams.

A little while ago, I was working as part of a project team alongside a number of developers who had never been exposed to much user research. We decided the developers would be included in research interviews and be part of sharing and analysing the research with the whole team.

When presenting back each story from the research, we gave all members of the team a postcard-sized card with ‘BIAS’ written on one side. The idea was that when a person shared a story from the research, we could call them out on any unrecognised weighting. When sharing, they could also use it to forewarn a comment, such as

  • “I only heard this in one interview but …”
  • “Most of the people I spoke to thought that …”
  • “I think …”

Meant in good humour, raising your hand with the ‘BIAS’ postcard became a friendly reminder, associated as part of analysing research.

But something else happened later into the project. When we were discussing iterations and changes to the product, the team continued using the same gesture of raising their postcard. We used it to preface a point we wanted to make or to disagree with someone else’s, even though we were not holding anything.

It got me thinking about the gestures we use in our teams to agree with each other, disagree, show understanding and remind someone of a point made earlier. I wanted to document the gestures I’ve seen and used most when designing services.

Using gestures with your team

Designing services, especially the bits of services that run through digital operations, can be a fairly intangible craft. Yes, we make maps and prototypes, we use walls and presentations to tell the stories of our progress. But the things we’re making and sharing can come across as quite 2-dimensional. I’ve found that by creating a shared visual language, we can use cues and reminders to share the shape of a service in a three-dimensional space.

These are best when paired with the visual of or memory of a service map (regardless of its fidelity) because they are visual clues that tie the viewers thinking back to those documents.

Here’s a short list of the actions I’ve seen used, and how they’ve helped teams. (the gesture notes are intended to be a bit silly, but please, try them out!)

End-to-end services

Emphasising the breadth of the service that you’re designing. Handy to use in scoping discussions, and in sprint planning (especially to bring attention back to the bit you need to be designing now.)

Gesture: starting with hands together in the centre of the body, move outward symmetrically and horizontally until you’ve reached your full wing-span. Additional flourish can be given to emphasise the endpoints of what you are designing.

Out of scope

Similar to the end-to-end service gesture, but used when talking about pieces of the service linked to your design, but potentially out of scope for now. Typically these are the things that a user might experience before or after the section you are designing now.

Gesture: with your arms almost wide open, and finger pointing down, extend arms to full wing-span (to indicate space at either end) move back and forth to starting place to emphasise.

This section of the service

Used when discussing a particular stage or step of the process. To show it’s place in the order of things, and it’s size in comparison to the end-to-end view.

Gesture: using one arm and a finger pointing down, find the start and end points of the section you are describing in comparison to the full service, move arm horizontally back and forth between the start and end points of section. (Bonus, use the other hand to indicate start/end point of end-to-end service, to indicate the distance from your defined section.)

Depth of the section of the service

Often, services have many things going on at once. In our maps and diagrams, we tend to use layers or channels to show each one (for face-to-face interactions, how data is moving, telephone conversations etc) this gesture lets you emphasise how deep a particular section of your service is going.

Gesture: keeping one hand steady at about heart-height, move the other directly below it to the desired depth of your layers.

Stitching the sections together

A gesture to use when you’re running through a description of many sections, at quite a high level. Good for indicating the easy flow between them.

Gesture: moving from left to right (for your viewer) move your hand horizontally, taking care to give a tap for each section as you name them.

Gestures as memory-aids

While these gestures are helpful in team discussions to add emphasis and visual meaning to the thing you are describing, what I find most interesting about them is how they can jog memories. A discussion held weeks later, but using the same gesture can bring a team back to a once-agreed point of reference.

This is especially true when communicating with senior stakeholders, who benefit from additional visual and kinetic clues to quickly get back into thinking about a piece of work they haven’t visited in a while.

Most of my experience is with teams who gesture with their arms and hands when articulating developing ideas together. I’d love to hear more from teams who use pointers, eye tracking or other tools to articulate their developing ideas together.

At UX Scotland and Birmingham design festival I want to expand on:

  • team shared memories
  • telling stories for visual, kinetic and oral learners
  • gestures as muscle-memories in the design process
  • adding three-dimensions to two-dimensional documentation
  • using gestures in teams to give all members equity in their voices (thanks @stevenjmesser at GDS for this example)

Are there other related points that would be good to include? Message me or let’s chat in the comments.


Using physical gestures when designing services was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

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