Article  |  UX

IxDA Portland July | Microinteractions: Designing with Details

Reading time: ~ 2 minutes

IxDA is a global network dedicated to the professional practice of Interaction Design and the Portland chapter usually meets on the third Tuesday of each month. July’s event focused on microinteractions, and we were fortunate to have the author of the recently published book on the topic, Dan Saffer, discuss these ‘small moments that add up to a delightful customer experience’.

The difference between a good product and a great one are its details: the microinteractions that make up the small moments inside and around features. How do you turn on mute on your phone? How do you know you have a new email message? How can you change a setting? All these little moments—which are typically not on any feature list and often ignored—can change a product from one that is tolerated to one that’s beloved. This talk provides a new way of thinking about designing digital products: as a series of microinteractions that are essential to bringing personality and delight to applications and devices. We’ll delve into the structure of microinteractions—Triggers, Rules, Feedback, and Loops—and talk about why you should: Bring The Data Forward, Don’t Start From Zero, Use What is Often Overlooked, and Long Loops.

The talk started with a story about the “Sad case of Patron X”, which provides a perfect example of how device users can misinterpret interfaces which lead to false expectations about functionality. In this case it inconvenienced hundreds of people and shamed a new iPhone user.

We learned the distinctions between microinteractions and features. Features require more cognitive load and are essentially a collection of microinteractions that as a group achieve some specific task. Microinteractions in digital interfaces can provide a veneer of personality, acting as signature moments in a product experience. AOL invented and implemented the “You’ve got mail” sound effect, a microinteraction that permeated the culture (of the era) and even inspired a Hollywood movie.

Microinteractions bring a human-ness to software experiences that could otherwise be less friendly, less useful, or less entertaining. The presentation continued with examples from Apple, Threadless, Spotify, MailChip, GE Cafe, Gmail Mobile, etc. which demonstrated the thoughtfulness of the product creators. Some of the examples showcased can be found at Little Big Details.

Dan has a great sense of humor, and many of the examples he presented were clever or cheeky behaviors in software that revealed the playful nature of designers and developers that collaborate to refine not only a product’s functionality, but its connection with the user its interface was created to empower.

After the presentation, Dan opened the floor to questions and comments from the audience.

We discussed how the medical industry might have the most to gain from well conceived microinteractions, but due to the legalistic nature of their work and long product cycles, cautious development can discourage the implementation of empathic interfaces, which ultimately lead to a sterile unintuitive user experience.

We also talked about how product teams can find time to refine microinteractions even with looming deadlines and tight budgets. On the surface, microinteractions tend to transcend beyond the capture of wireframes and userstories, often taken for granted as an obvious design pattern that doesn’t need innovation or creativity. Dan inspired us to respect the users’ emotional response to an interaction and think about how different users could misinterpret the tone of the feedback, not get the joke, or just not appreciate it. There is a balance between refining these details to improve an experience and trying too hard, but when you get it right, Tom Hanks might star in a movie about it.

This is the first IxDA event I’ve attended, and based on my experience, I look forward to attending more in the future.

What if you missed the talk or haven’t read the book yet?

Relax, Dan and SmartDesign have put together a downloadable reference guide on microinteractions for your viewing pleasure.

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