For touch-based input technologies, triggering an action is a simple binary question. Touch the device to engage with it. Release it to disengage. Motion control offers a lot more nuance and power, but unlike with mouse clicks or screen taps, your hand doesn’t have the ability to disappear at will. Instead of designing interactions in black and white, we need to start thinking in shades of gray.

Let’s say there’s an app with two controls: left swipe and right swipe. When the user swipes right and naturally pulls the hand back to its original, the left swipe might get triggered accidentally. This is a false positive error, and bad UX. So, with hand data being tracked constantly, how do you stop hand interactions from colliding with one another?

1. Create cooldown periods

Let’s start with our earlier swiping example. To avoid registering a false positive, you can design your app to ignore subsequent swipes within a brief time window (one or two seconds) after the initial swipe. This gives the user time to return to the original position without accidentally triggering a second swipe.

2. Design explicit trigger actions

Actions that require more user intent than others will always be harder to trigger accidentally, and should be used when a false positive could disrupt the entire experience. One approach is to use clear switches in hand poses. In All the Cooks, for instance, switching from an open hand to pointing reveals additional menu options. Our internal testing has also found that bringing in two hands for an interaction is more explicit than a single one, and therefore harder to accidentally trigger.

3. Create a null mode

If tracking hand position is a key part of using your app, remember that users will want to completely stop tracking without having to remove their hand from the device’s field of view. Google Earth’s Leap Motion integration uses a variety of hand metrics – including pitch, yaw, and position – to let you soar above the globe. But since humans haven’t yet mastered the art of invisibility, pulling your open hand from the interaction space can send you into a tailspin. The solution? Making a fist stops your hand movements from impacting the app controls.

4. Use context-specific interactions

Any app experience can be imagined as a series of distinct contexts chained together by specific interactions. For each context, only a fraction of the app’s overall interaction set is likely to be relevant. If a part of your app has hand interactions that are often triggered accidentally, consider disabling irrelevant interactions in that context – like how Sculpting moves neighboring menu options out of the way so they’re not accidentally triggered when a radial menu opens.


5. Explore multi-modal input

As Daniel Widgor notes in Brave NUI World, have you ever noticed how the iPhone uses the touchscreen for application interactions, but physical buttons for external controls like on/off and volume? For more complex projects, you might want to consider multi-modal input that also uses voice or eye-tracking to determine user intent. In an insightful article on Smashing Magazine, Chris Noessel suggests using gestures for physical manipulations, while language can be used for abstractions. (By the way, if you’ve never read his blog on sci-fi interfaces, get ready to lose a weekend!)

6. Test and iterate

The best application design process is always iterative. Shake down the entire application flow, test out scenarios where the interactions might overlap, and find the pain points. Building with motion control means throwing out a lot of design principles that are built on legacy interaction models and exploring new ground. In testing and building on your app, always ask yourself: Where can Leap interaction make this experience better? And how can I make it easier for my users to achieve what they want?

Update 9/12/2014: Freeform has been redubbed Sculpting for V2.

Nancy is a Leap Motion UX designer. She believes that well-designed digital experiences can make everyone feel like superheroes.