Getting to Signature Moments with Microinteractions

Four strategies to add microinteraction details to your product

Microinteractions are the small pieces of functionality that are inside or around features. They are brief, single use-case moments. Turning off the ringer on your phone is one example. While no one buys a phone for the ability to turn the ringer off, the ability to do that—and do it easily and enjoyably—make a huge difference to the overall user experience. Microinteractions are the “feel” half of “look and feel.” If you care about user experience, you should care about microinteractions. Refined microinteractions lead to a refined product.

For some people, particularly those working on large products like Facebook, microinteractions are a daily activity, but for many people one of the biggest challenges to designing microinteractions is convincing clients, product managers, and business stakeholders that they’re worth spending time on. How do you steal some time away to really make sure your product is polished? Here are some strategies.

Make the Signature Moments Case

Microinteractions, when done well, can become Signature Moments that are associated with the brand. Facebook’s “Like” is one great example. Microsoft dropped the Start button…and faced some serious backlash from its user base because it’s a Signature Moment.

Signature Moments build customer loyalty and increase adoption. They can also give you something interesting and enjoyable to market, to show off to potential users. Especially if your client is in Marketing, this is a winning strategy.

Bundle Microinteractions Together

Ironically, it can be hard to get time to do one microinteraction, but if you bundle several of them together as a “product upgrade” it can help to sell them. This works particularly well at both large companies (who can be used to this kind of bundling for bug fixes), and for very small companies, particularly those working in a Lean or Agile style. You can work a lot of microinteractions into a two-week sprint.

Stealth Prototype

Sometimes, all it takes is one example to get people fired up. We just did this on a recent project where we took one small moment and demonstrated the microinteraction. The clients loved it—perhaps even more than some large features we’d slaved over.

The trick with a stealth prototype is to find a microinteraction that is visible enough and can be prototyped quickly. (It helps if it could be a Signature Moment in fact.) Use a microinteraction that will be frequently used, then prototype it as quickly as possible, while as high-fidelity as possible, preferably on the platform it’s designed for. It’s not going to wow unless it’s high-fidelity.

It’s Easier to Apologize Than to Get Permission

I have a theory that many microinteractions are slipped in by the developers and designers unbeknownst to product owners, much like “Easter Eggs” often are. This is a risky strategy, of course, but I also suspect many of these microinteractions, as they’re buried in obscure parts of the product, won’t ever be a source of contention—if they’re ever even discovered. I don’t recommend this method for anything too edgy, nor for any critical microinteraction such as the on/off switch.

So there you have it: four strategies to add microinteraction details to your product. Using these, you’ll hopefully create products that users love, not just tolerate.

Microinteraction animations created by Smart Design

Related

Sign up for the O'Reilly Programming Newsletter to get weekly insight from industry insiders.
topic: UI/UX