Microinteractions: Designing with Details

“The best products do two things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product; details are what keep them there” says Dan Saffer. The importance of details can’t be over-emphasized. Details make users love or hate an app or website. Microinteractions are those details. They might be easily overlooked in the global design scheme, but they actually hold the entire experience together.

In this article, I’ll explain what is a microinteraction, why they are important and provide some great examples.

What is a Microinteraction

Microinteractions are subtle moments centered around accomplishing a single task. Almost all applications around us are filled in with microinteractions.

The most well-known example of a microinteraction has existed long before computers were ever invented. The on/off switch is often the first microinteraction people encounter with a product.

Some other examples of specific microinteractions include:

  • The vibration notification together with silent mode icon on display when you switch an iPhone to mute.
  • The pull-to-refresh UI pattern. By connecting the user’s desire of finding more content with the action of refreshing, the experience becomes more seamless.


Image credit: Ramotion

  • The ’like’ button on social networks which highlights changes by using interactive animations. Such feedback informs users that they are in the list of those who liked the post.


Image credit: Dribbble

Why They Work

In short, microinteractions improve the UX by making the user interface less machine and more human. A lot of times we think about look & feel and how it relates to design. When we think about microinteractions, they pretty much make up a balance how users feel about the product, service or brand. Microinteractions fine-tune human-centered design by:

  • Providing immediate feedback —  Visual feedback appeal to the user’s natural desire for acknowledgement. The user instantly knows their action was accepted, and they want to be delighted by a visual reward.
  • Acting as facilitators for interaction — Microinteractions have the power to encourage users to actually interact. They can guide users in how to work with the app.
  • Bringing delight — Microinteractions are the perfect chance for a little extra delight in the design without detracting from main experience.

Additional benefits

Because microinteractions are brief in nature, they must be designed for repeated use. Well-designed microinteractions are able to create:

Habit loop

Microinteractions are the key components of habit loops. Habits are formed when people perform the same actions repeatedly. Typical habit loop consists of three elements:

  1. Cue — Trigger that initiates action
  2. Routine — In response to the cue, you perform an action
  3. Reward — A benefit you get from completing the routine, reason for completing action

The stronger the reward, the more stronger the habit becomes.

Facebook’s notification about new friend request is a good example of habit loop: red badge and whitened icon (cue) indicate there’s a new request, which makes the user click the icon (routine) to see information about the person (reward). After a while, users automatically click on icon when they see the red badge.

Signature moments

If done well, microinteractions can be signature moments that increase customer loyalty. Signature moments are microinteractions that have been elevated to be part of the brand. Think about Facebook’s Like button. It becomes natural part of Facebook interface. If Facebook suddenly remove this feature, users will notice it and will think that the app is broken.

Identifying Opportunities

Part of the beauty of microinteractions is that they can be inserted in a variety of places, around any potential action. Microinteractions are good for:

Highlighting changes

Microinteractions can direct user attention. In many cases animations are used for attracting user’s attention to important details (i.e. notifications).


Image credits: Dribbble

Minimizing user effort

Autocomplete is a great example of microinteraction. Typing has high interaction cost; it’s error prone and time consuming even with a full keyboard (and even more so on a touch screen). Autocomplete helps the user to provide the right answer faster and without typographical errors. As you type each letter, the system will make its best guesses as to the words you’re trying to find.


Image credits: fancy.surge.sh

Providing feedback to show what’s been accomplished

Microinteractions can reinforce the actions a user is performing. By following the principle “show, don’t tell”, you can use animated feedback to show what’s been accomplished. In Stripe’s example, when the user clicks “Pay”, a spinner briefly appears before the app shows the success state. Checkmark animation makes user feel like they easily did the payment and users do appreciate such important details.

Provide status information

The first usability heuristic principle by Jakob Nielsen states: the system should always keep users informed about what is going on. Typing indicator in chat is a great example of microinteractions that provides status information. It appears on your buddy’s screen while you’re composing a message in chat.


Image credits: Dribbble

Validate user data

One of the most important, and often overlooked aspect parts of form design is error handling. It’s human nature to make mistakes though, and your form probably isn’t exempt to human error. Users dislike when they go through the process of filling out a form only to find out at submission, that they’ve made an error. This is where validation microinteraction plays it’s part in a user-friendly form. Real-time inline validation immediately informs users about the correctness of provided data. This approach allows users to correct the errors they make faster without having to wait until they press the submit button to see the errors. When done right, it can turn an ambiguous interaction into a clear one.

Credits: Dribbble

Conclusion

Design is in the details. Even minor details deserve close attention, because all these little moments make up the feel, they come together to form a beautiful holistic product.

“The difference between products we love and those we simply tolerate are often the microinteractions we have with them.” — Dan Saffer

If you care about user experience, you must care about microinteractions. Because your product is only as good as the least microinteraction that people have with it. 

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