Touch screens change behaviour

Close-up of a female touching the screen of a tablet computerYou can use a website with a keyboard and mouse, or you can work your way through the same site using your finger on a mobile device. However, you might not notice, but you use the same website in different ways, according to the way in which you access the site.

Research has revealed that people order different kinds of foods on websites when they use their fingers, compared with using a mouse. The study showed that people tend to choose more pleasurable foods when using their fingers on an iPad than when using a keyboard and mouse. The researchers believed that the act of using fingers and hands meant there was a greater mental connection between the food and the brain. With the keyboard and mouse, there is a kind of bypass or filter that disconnects the user with the web page’s content in some way.

The connection between the hand and the brain is often overlooked. Research conducted three years ago confirmed that we tend to remember more when we write notes with our hands than when we type them using a keyboard. It appears that the use of hands alone creates an increased level of brain activity. When we type with a keyboard, there are lower levels of brain activity and less interaction.

Similarly, it appears that we use our hands in much more personal ways than using a keyboard. Even though we all type differently, it is really easy to determine an individual user from the way they touch and swipe on a hand-held screen. Indeed, researchers in Switzerland were able to accurately identify individual users from 14,000 people simply from a few screen touches. This suggests we approach mobile devices with touch screens in a much more personal way than when we use a keyboard.  Studies of typing dynamics have shown wide variations in accuracy, depending on the methods employed and the length of words analysed. Compared with the touch screen data, this suggests we use keyboards in more diverse ways than when we use our fingers directly on the screen.

Much web design discussion these days is about “responsive design” so that websites are enhanced for each different kind of device. This enables a site to be viewed well on a desktop device or a mobile device, regardless of screen size or orientation.

However, the research on food choices suggests that website owners need to take into account some other factors as well. The options provided to people who are using their fingers may need to be different to those chosen by keyboard. For instance, if you are a health-based store the less healthy options in your range could be the ones selected by finger, compared with those chosen by keyboard and mouse. That could imply the need to restrict mobile displays from some options.

Equally, you could use mobile marketing to drive more sales for physical items you sell. People will be getting a greater sense of touch from the screen than they will from using a mouse and keyboard. This would suggest that you should promote physical items more with mobile users than with desktop visitors.

Once again this research adds to the broad mix of information which demonstrates that deciding what to provide your visitors online is no simple matter. There are a large number of factors that need to be taken into account, including whether they are using their fingers to “touch” what you sell or whether they are just clicking things with a mouse. That will make a difference to what you sell as well as to the amounts.

Just considering responsive design is the least of your worries.

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