All posts for the month January, 2010

Updated on March 20. Todd Sieling was kind enough to put the Gesturcons into an Omnigraffe stencil, so those are included in the package as well. Thanks!
Updated the link on March 4th. Thanks to all that emailed me.
Current Version v1.51 : have just made the second revision, corrected some spelling and updated a definition.
I purposely left out some of the icons at first launch because I wanted to hear some feedback before people thought I had a fully thought out the solution. So, I have updated this post with the additional icons and the explanation for the purpose of them at the bottom. Enjoy!

One of the prevailing themes of my writing is the ability for everyone to gain common grounds when discussing interactions. I believe one of the keys to this is a common metaphor, OCGM (Objects, Containers, Gestures, and Manipulations) as well as a set of icons for use in design. When sketching out the user experience it’s important to note the interactions. This is especially true in state diagrams, specs, and other interaction design documents. In my first installment of Gesturcons, I present to you the Gesturcons : Touch Pack 1.0. These are being released under the Creative Commons License and I hope that you all find some good use for them in your designs and experiences.

This is the first batch, for touch. I also have Spatial, Voice, and a few others in the works.


I’m using a simplistic graphic design language to represent the actions by a user. If we use OCGM to boil down each action, we get just a few basic actions that all can be constructed from. To combine these actions together I use only two different states. They either happen at the same time, or they happen consecutively.

After we have established exactly when the action takes place, we can then talk about the specific actions. I use only a few different types of basic actions as well. The only addition you see here is the Location Specific Icon. That means that the exact placing of that particular input is predetermined by the system for the manipulation or the gesture to be successful. As an example, the Red X at the top right of Windows is a location specific manipulation.

The path icon is pretty straightforward. It means that the path the user has to take to accomplish the goal is specific and is going to be bound by guidelines. Those rules are what you have devised, but the path is specific.

The rotation icons are dual purpose. They can mean an actual spin of the input or a spin of the action. This could be boiled down to a Path, because they have to follow a certain pathway to achieve success. I find it easy, but others find it difficult to also put a rotation as a simple path. So I added it here for ease of use. Notice the use of Twin when its dual simultaneous inputs.

To sum up the use of the Gesturcons, I present an example of how you could build your own gestures using this language. In this example I demonstrate the visual identifiers to show a gesture of the question mark.

I’ve also updated the Zip file with all these new gestures. Enjoy and happy designing.

Here is the ZIP, which contains all the PNGs, the Illustrator File and an EPS as well. These are being released under the Creative Commons, which means you can use them internally as much as you want but you cannot package them, redistribute them, or include them in any professional product.

License here
Creative Commons License
Gesturcons by Ron George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

I get this question quite frequently, so I thought it best to address it in its own post. Here is the question.

Any advice for someone with tons of experience as a designer and developer, but stuck in upstate NY with a dearth of telecommute opportunities?


The first thing I would tell you to do is to watch and read everything from Daniel Pink you can get your hands on. If you are like me and you just want the lazy route, atleast watch this video of a talk he gave at TED (embedded below).

I’m a big fan of Daniel and the things he has to say. Basically, he sums up the threat of telecommuting and how innovation and decision making will solve many problems. Anything that can be done by telecommute, WILL be done by that method. If it does not require decision making, it will be done by telecommute. It’s cheaper, easier, and faster. Many of the offshore development houses have an unlimited amount of resources they can throw on the project, so scalability is never an issue.

The key to success in this day and age is in design and decision making. Put yourself in the position to make decisions that directly affect the product’s success. Being a designer that can actually shape the product is the key to accelerating your career path. Make an impact and ensure it’s success.

Development is a great skill, but you only need to know enough to make good design decisions. The ability to work out a specific worker algorithm to accomplish a task is beyond the scope of your needs. If you are talking about web design, then development plays a much higher need. The ability to understand and incorporate web development into your designs will save you, your team, and the development team tons of wasted cycles.


Know enough development to propel your designs to the front of the pack. Concentrate on a specific part of design or interaction and own it. Become it.

I have been getting a few emails about the blog being down. It’s rather silly when my blog is being linked from international news sites and they get a memory error instead of content. I’m getting tired of the lack of performance. The dreaded “Out of Memory” error is because my current host cannot handle the load from the readers on WordPress. I have moderate traffic and run a few websites. I’m currently paying $30 a month, which seems outlandish for what I’m getting.

Recently I have learned there are several non-designers that read my blog out of interest for the field, to get better at the experience end of things, or to just gain more knowledge about the process we go through. In this article I want to give a skimming overview of one of the great ideas around designing for social experiences. One thing you should understand before you begin the design.

I usually begin with definitions to gain a common vocabulary. This article begins with two stories.

1. You have a ton of monkeys

You are a monkey pet owner. You have several monkeys. When you begin adopting monkeys you give them names and remember them by their attributes. As you begin to amass your monkey army, some of the monkeys do not interact with you that often and therefore begin to be second thought in your mind. The ones who interact with you the most are the closest to you. You recognize them from a distance, you know their names as well as you know what day it is. Those monkeys that are close to you, your intimate circle, are what we will call your “Monkeysphere.”

The psychology question is at what point will you start forgetting their names? When will you begin to start thinking of them as “the other monkeys” or “the monkeys that don’t come to me when its feeding time.” What’s happening is the monkeys are being established in your mind in 2 initial sets. You have a monkeysphere and an extended circle of monkeys. The extended monkeys, even though they are close, are more distant in your emotional response and interactions with them. The answer to the question, “When will you start forgetting their names?”, we have had several studies based on that exact question. We think we know the answer.

2. You are a prehistoric man that lives in a tribe

As a cave-person you understand that living and moving about the bountiful plains in a group is much safer. You are a member of a tribe for support and safety. In this tribe you also have your immediate family and close friends. You have daily interactions with your family and friends. That group we will call your intimate network.

The intimate network you have around you is a small subset of your tribe. You have daily close interactions with them. You might groom each other, talk about the day’s events, share food, protect them with your life if need be, care for them when they are sick. This group is small and tightly monitored. One of the reasons this group is small is that it is made up of people just like you in some manner or they are relatives, who you feel a connection with. What keeps them in your intimate network is the constant actions with them. You are always reminded of their presence and well-being. Much like the monkey pet owner, if you have constant interactions with them, the closer they get to your emotional well-being.

You also look for them as your own personal support network. You will ask for their opinions, affirmations, and look for guidance as well. You may borrow things from them knowing they will say yes, and that you will return them in good order. You take a less critical eye to what they say and they do likewise to you as well.

Your extended network are those in your tribe. You have interactions with them, but not necessarily daily. You conduct or attend ceremonies with them, you might support them from a distance by donating food to the group, and you may attend tribal council meetings to help shape or establish rules for all to follow. Your extended network is important to you, but they are not crucial. You may look at them with a slightly more critical eye than you do to your intimate network, but not like a stranger.

The interesting thing is that we believe there is a set number you can have in your intimate network and your extended network. That number is based on brain size and species. How big is your tribe and how big is your intimate network? We think we have a good idea of that answer as well because it is the same as the first story. The answer is 12 for intimate networks, and 150 for extended networks.

Dunbar’s Number

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.[1] Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.

Primatologists have noted that, due to their highly social nature, non-human primates have to maintain personal contact with the other members of their social group, usually through grooming. Such social groups function as protective cliques within the physical groups in which the primates live. The number of social group members a primate can track appears to be limited by the volume of the neocortex region of their brain. This suggests that there is a species-specific index of the social group size, computable from the species’ mean neocortex volume.

In a 1992 article, Dunbar used the correlation observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for humans. Using a regression equation on data for 38 primate genera, Dunbar predicted a human “mean group size” of 148 (casually rounded to 150), a result he considered exploratory due to the large error measure (a 95% confidence interval of 100 to 230). [via Wikipedia]

This is important because using this theory, we understand that there will only be about 12 very intimate people in someone’s network and about 150 total. When someone says “How many friends do you think our customers will have?” that is a great starting point.

If this is true, why do people have thousands of facebook friends and have hundreds of people they consider “great friends”? What we see through research is that people have augmented their extended network because in modern civilization people have gotten more secluded. Yes, more secluded through technology. When you wake up you don’t have to interact with anyone if you don’t want to. The sizes of communities have gotten smaller and more niche. We do not have to interact with people like we used to. You probably feel close to some online friend than you do to your neighbor that lives 4 houses down. This is the crux of modern society. We have gotten more lonely.

To maintain our extended network, because we find that people really do need an extended network, we use other avenues to look for affirmation and guidance. These can take the form of online groups, message boards, or another place that you may frequent, such as a grocery store. You may go to the gym to work out and then afterwards sit and talk to the people that work their or others that work out there, because you show similar interests as them, and therefore consider them a part of your extended network. This is the same reason people gossip about celebrities with each other.You and I don’t know any celebrities, but it is a way for us to have a common ground to discuss something. Therefore we reaffirm our morality and our views based on them with each other. Through the use of this dialog we struggle to maintain our values, our principles, and our extended network.

What does this mean to design?

Well, the full meaning of this to design is well beyond the scope of this article, but it can be boiled down to a few things. First we know that most people will have a very close circle, a monkeysphere, of about 12 people. That will be a group comprised mainly of your close friends and family. We also know that most people will have an extended network of about 150 people. Using those two numbers you will have a great start at designing the features and functions of a social network. You can limit features and functions based on those numbers to save on development and iterations. We know that you will not need 50 functions for 500 people, but you may need 50 functions for about a dozen. Of the next set, you will not need 25 functions for 500 people, but you may need them for 150 or so.

When you design for a social experience always keep in mind ‘what is their monkeysphere?’ and ‘where will this play a part in it.’ Most social designers fail to realize this and try to design a small amount of functions for everyone, thereby leaving out the intimate network and leaving user’s wanting more.

This is just a light skimming of the theory and I hope it has motivated you to go out and read more on it.

Further Reading

The original Monkeysphere article, which is a great article and where I got the first story from.

The ultimate brain teaser from the University of Liverpool, which discusses the more technical reasons for Dunbar’s studies.