From the book club: Microinteractions

Amid the work of experience maps, improvement matrices, and innovation concepts, MicroInteractions: Designing with Details by Dan Saffer was a satisfying reminder to always come back to the details. I often find myself juggling projects of varied scope. That means I am balancing big picture thinking with focus on the small details. It can often feel like the big picture work has more of an impact. It takes more time to think through, and consumes more of my attention. As I grow in my career and tackle projects of greater complexity, having a firm grasp of the big picture is indispensable, but the details can’t slide in quality. 

While microinteractions exist in your product regardless of the level of attention paid to them, there is difficulty in selling the value of doing them well - especially when it requires extra effort or unfamiliar territory for your dev team (I’m looking at you, animations). Saffer briefly mentions the difficulty of selling microinteractions, but only goes as far as to say it’s worth the effort.

I don’t have an answer to this either*, but I do know it’s important to maintain your level of excellence in design craft, even if those designs rarely see the light of day in their full form. Microinteractions renewed my inspiration to sweat even the details that probably won’t see implementation.

So, to get in fighting shape, I set myself the task of reviewing my latest projects’ microinteractions and designing improvements. I learned a couple of things from this exercise:

  • I found most bad microinteractions were a symptom of a bigger design issue - usually an entire neglected flow.
  • A good place to look is at the intersection of systems or flows. The ‘seams’ can often use the benefit a microinteraction brings to the user experience. Ryan Singer captures a good example.
  • When you focus on just one microinteraction, it’s amazing how many different forms it can take, especially if you experiment with tweaking all the levers of: form, triggers, feedback, rules, and loops. I’ll follow-up in another post with more detail on the specific interaction I chose.

This is a great book for new interaction designers as it really breaks down the steps of designing simple interactions. For experienced designers, the curated examples from Little Big Details are a reminder you owe it to yourself and your craft to set aside time to think and design in this way. Rely on self-motivation and the personal satisfaction of a job well done.

*Ok, I can’t resist brainstorming some ideas:

  • Prototyping. I think we all know that one. I think especially for situations where the implementation is telling you no just because they can’t picture or are skeptical that something can be done.
  • Designer/coder. I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine this is less of an issue where designers deliver front-end code. It’s a cool idea, but I don’t know how that scales to huge complex products and projects. Maybe the UI coder is part of the UX team and the team delivers UI with designs.
  • Educate. Teaching your team about microinteractions and having them look for places that this level of detail can be added is invaluable. Some of the best microinteractions come from their insight into what’s possible with low effort.