Engagement and providing excellent user experience (UX) has become the name of the game for most brands.
While a lot of the relationship-building resources are placed on communication channels, microinteractions go a long way in creating some of the best UX, and ultimately, the best products.
First Off, What Are Microinteractions?
In its most basic sense, microinteractions are individual moments in the product design that accomplish a particular task, while enhancing what is intended to be the natural product flow.
They are what bridge UI and UX, where functionality meets design – and they are everywhere.
A microinteraction is the screen on the ATM screen that tells you your transaction is being processed. It is the “skip intro” button on Netflix, the reactions to a social media post, and even the animation when content is loading.
These seemingly small details are not just details – they are the design, and ultimately, the experience. They are what makes a product more comfortable to use, more enjoyable, and perhaps more importantly, more engaging.
It has been said that the difference between a product you love and a product you tolerate lie in these microinteractions.
The Benefits Of Improving Microinteractions
More and more, brands are looking to foster connections with their customers. While much attention has been placed on communication channels, it is equally important to take advantage of the micro-moments where you can provide customers with positive user experience.
Here are some of the other benefits of optimising microinteractions: They
- Guide users through the product in a fluid, and more intuitive manner (see example)
- Give users immediate feedback based on the actions they have taken (see example)
- Encourage user engagement (see example)
- Enhance the sense of operation
- Visualize operations to prevent user errors
The Structure Of An Effective Microinteraction
Far from being just a matter of aesthetics, there is a structure to what makes an effective microinteraction. As pointed out by Dan Staffer, author of “Microinteractions: Designing with Details,” there are four essential parts of a microinteraction:
- Trigger: This initiates a microinteraction, as in a toggle switch that turns a functionality on and off.
- Rules: These determine how a microinteraction responds to a trigger, while also defining what happens during the interaction. An example would be what happens when you swipe through profiles on Tinder.
- Feedback: This tells the user what is actually happening during a microinteraction. You see this all the time when you input the wrong password (with a red message indicating the error), or when you are filling up a form and are missing specific fields. It is a great way to alert users that they have done something wrong, guiding them to proceed appropriately.
- Loops and Modes: These define the meta-rules of a microinteraction and how it changes when used repeatedly. A good example is with e-commerce sites, where a “Buy now” button turns into “Buy another” when a user has made a previous purchase of the same item.
Understanding the structure of microinteractions allows you to design ones that make a difference. As pointed out by Sergey Gladkiy, it will enable designers to identify pain points, logical sequences, and functional design elements that sensibly bring microinteractions together.
Say And Do More With Micro-Animations
With the increasingly visual nature of users, micro-animations have become more integral to UX. They not only clarify interfaces but also enrich interactions without you ever saying a word.
As noted by Evelien Mooij-Gebler, with micro-animations, you could give feedback, show progress, and answer questions like “did I click it?” or “was my order placed?”
This also helps with the smaller mobile screens that users are spending more time on. Navigation menus can be tucked away until needed, as do elements such as the comments section.
Other benefits of micro-animations include the fact that they:
- Create Focus and Manipulation: If it moves, it will attract attention, particularly on an otherwise static screen. This could be a useful strategy when urging users to oblige to your CTA.
- Improve Brand Experience: Similar to how the minimalist appeal of Google’s search page, the dots on their logo communicate different statuses on its Google Assistant: listening, waiting, processing, and answering.
Standing Out In The Ocean Of Mobile Apps
With millions of mobile apps and everyone using micro-animations to different extents, smart use of these may very well spell the difference between getting users into your app and getting it uninstalled.
As noted by Sarah Preston, by offering users the value of something extra (appropriate amount of feedback, user-friendly microinteractions, rewards for actions), you have the opportunity to provide a more enjoyable overall experience.
Things to keep in mind when improving mobile design:
- KISS: In the realm of microinteractions, this translates to keeping it small and subtle. You do not want to distract the user from their original task. As a general rule, by the time the user noticed them, they should already have disappeared from focus.
- It is not you; it is them: Microinteractions are all about the users. The best apps are the most user-centric ones. With the expectations for the design, performance, and functionality of apps rising by the day, putting yourself in users’ shoes is critical in providing great UX thru microinteractions.
It is rare, even for top-of-the-food-chain designers to get it entirely right the first time.
This means that user testing is part of the design process. The process of testing microinteractions for usability, analysing results, and applying the necessary revisions are repeated until usability issues, and pain points are addressed.
There are different ways you can test microinteractions, but one constant is that testing should be all about users. This includes:
- How they expect it to work
- Their impressions
- What they want the microinteraction to remember about them
- What issues did they encounter
Apart from user feedback, you can also test quantitative data points. These could include:
- Completion rate: The percentage of users who were able to finish the microinteraction
- Duration: How long users take to complete a microinteraction
- Number of steps: This can help you identify inefficiencies
- The number of errors: This includes both human and machine error
The combination of user feedback and quantitative data can be beneficial in coming up with the best UX design. However, it is essential to keep in mind that while data can be useful for pointing you in the right direction, it cannot design for you. Allow it to be an input, not a decision maker.
Best Practices When Creating Microinteractions
Create a Habit Loop
It may be an old example, but Facebook is an excellent template for how to create a habit loop.
Primarily, users have been programmed to check on notifications (for post engagements, events, group posts, and the like). Thus, clicking on the notifications icon quickly became a routine, while the reactions users get from their posts serve as the reward. In this case, the stronger the reward, the stronger the habit becomes.
Google is the master of extremely functional micronteractions. In fact, one of the simplest, yet most useful ones out there is its “Translate this page“.
While no online translator is perfect, users generally do not need it to be; they just need to get a good enough idea of what they are looking at. Just look at the huge difference that functionality makes:
Gmail’s latest version comes with a few auto-generated responses depending on the contents of the email. Gmail has always been the most intuitive email service provider, and this newest update proves this yet again.
Not a Drag
The concept of dragging and dropping has eliminated several steps that users were previously required to do.
Many website builder platforms have allowed people with no tech backgrounds to create aesthetically-pleasing sites because of this feature. Moreover, even with simple things like things like reordering task lists, it is still a welcome feature that results in an enjoyable UX.
Swiping actions embodies all the best elements of a good microinteraction—simple, easy to understand, quick, and fun. Its habit-looping capabilities are also innately addicting; just ask anyone about their first night of downloading Tinder.
It cannot be stressed enough that microinteractions should always be designed with the users in mind. How will it help them? How does it make tasks easier? How does it make the overall experience more pleasant?
Another essential thing to keep in mind is that longevity is crucial – if it transforms from a nice little touch to annoying after the 100th use, then perhaps you should rethink its design.
Want to learn more?
Are you interested in the intersection between UX and UI Design? The online courses on UI Design Patterns for Successful Software and Design Thinking: The Beginner’s Guide can teach you skills you need. If you take a course, you will earn an industry-recognized course certificate to advance your career. On the other hand, if you want to brush up on the basics of UX and Usability, try the online course on User Experience (or another design topic). Good luck on your learning journey!
(Lead image: Depositphotos)