Basic gesture sensors can play a significant role as input units in mobile smart devices. However, they have to handle a wide variety of gestures while preserving the advantages of basic sensors. In this paper a user-determined approach to the design of a sparse optical gesture sensor is proposed. The statistical research on a study group of individuals includes the measurement of user-related parameters like the speed of a performed swipe (dynamic gesture) and the morphology of fingers. The obtained results, as well as other a priori requirements for an optical gesture sensor were further used in the design process. Several properties were examined using simulations or experimental verification. It was shown that the designed optical gesture sensor provides accurate localization of fingers, and recognizes a set of static and dynamic hand gestures using a relatively low level of power consumption.