Microinteraction—Think Small

Lady Pointing at Centre of table with bell in hand

Common knowledge’s understanding of design doesn’t usually go farther than what the eye sees, but a cultural icon of invention said:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
—Steve Jobs

Most of the time, when a user is asked why they like a product that they often use, they’ll probably give broad answers like, “it just works”, or “it helps me do my job efficiently.” These type of answers are the ones that usually lead to a hundred more questions that a designer needs to answer to understand how users really perceive a product, and what they can take away from it to use on their own work.

A thoughtfully designed microinteraction is part of good user experience. They are the small moments in a product that would happen unnoticed by common users because they are expected to be there, but when ignored in the design process, something supposedly unnoticeable becomes a very big annoyance, and can drag down a product’s rating.

A product that looks good but doesn’t do well enough what it’s supposed to do is only good for display.

Dan Saffer, the author of the eponymous book, broke the model down into four parts.

The trigger is the spark that starts the whole thing. It can be instigated by a user (a button tap or click, a swipe, etc), or by something else like a text message arriving, or the moment a blog post, a photo, or any file reaches the internet.

The rules engaged by the trigger are the ones that will define the sequence. They are the ones that usually go unnoticed.

Being kept in the dark is a very unsettling for most people, and it won’t be an interaction if a user does not get feedback that there is progression since the trigger.

Nothing defines modern design more than patterns and repetition. Reuse what is reusable. Conserve to sustain finite amounts of resource. The last part is what makes microinteraction definitively a modern design thinking: modes and loops. Modes determine the small changes in the loop and the loops determines how long the whole thing goes on for (twenty times, until this certain date, until the end of time, etc.)

An inexperienced designer will take for-granted microinteractions most of the time, like most people. People usually see things as a whole, and willfully or unwittingly ignore the details that make up the whole. They forget that without these small pieces of details that build a great product, a product can be easily forgotten, or put aside out of frustration, or disinterest. Understanding every nook and cranny of something, on the other hand, can help a designer deconstruct one thing and turn it into something totally novel and helpful.