Microinteractions: A beginners guide

Before I delve in, I want you to imagine walking down a shopping aisle looking for something you haven’t purchased before but now absolutely need. Let’s say you’ve recently had a baby and need nappies (a mind boggling experience when first undertaken). So, there you are, trying to make a decision between products that all serve the same purpose functionally, and yet you find yourself more drawn to some than others. Maybe it’s the colours, the way the packaging feels, or the visuals. Regardless, you’re going to make a decision there and then based on your initial interaction with the product. Once you’ve bought in through the original emotional association, you’re going to further scrutinise the brands by some of their delicate intricacies. For me, this was the little sticky flaps on the side. Ultimately, they sealed (pun intended) the deal with regards to my brand loyalty.
In the offline world, investing in the customer’s emotional connection to your brand is extremely important. It can make or break a product, after all. But what about the online world? We’re all about innovation, aren’t we? Well, like it or not, the open niches in our ‘digital world’ are starting to shrink. As such, ways of standing out are becoming more and more refined. The ways of doing this are vast, but here I’m going to talk about one specific, but often overlooked, method to improve the customer experience; microinteractions.

What are micro interactions?
Have you been on a website and clicked ‘read more’ on a little bit of text? How did that happen? Did it just ‘appear’, or did it ‘expand’ in to the space? If it did, that’s called an accordion and is an example of a microinteraction. Another nice example is the satisfying ‘plop’ or ‘phlunk’ noise your keys make when you type on your mobile. Here are some more examples of well-known microinteractions:
• Postcode autocomplete
• That satisfying bounce when reaching the bottom of a page on mobile
• Pull to refresh
• AOL ‘you have mail’
• Apple swipe to unlock
• Tinder ‘swipe to like’
• Facebook like function
• Gmail download attachment function

In short, microinteractions are the subtle little experiences that help make for an excellent customer experience. They’re the little device that stops your kitchen cupboards slamming, the rubber holding bit part of your pen, the hook on your shower gel.

Why do you need them and what do they do?

Most people are familiar with the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’. Well, that actually sounds negative and, in actuality, the original phrase is ‘God is in the detail’, so let’s go with that. These little moments of joy encapsulated within the otherwise purely functional code can make or break a product. Some companies do it so well that they have almost built their entire platform on it (step forward, Apple). Regardless, the detail of anything is where the beauty lies and this is exactly why microinteractions are important. Everyone and everything has a digital presence in this day and age, so you need to set yourself apart from the pack.

Microinteractions actually have a few definable functions. Firstly, they vastly improve the usability of a product. Of course, in many instances this is entirely subjective, but swiping to access another page on a document feels immensely better to just pressing a designated part of the screen, for example. Secondly, they serve your branding efforts by allowing the consumer to link your product or service with a positive or uplifting experience. In some instances, they can actually become synonymous with your brand, such as the case with Facebook’s ‘like’. Lastly, when employed in certain instances, microinteractions can allow for great little insights in to customer behaviour. For example, if you need to know what content is the most popular, include a microinteraction that doubles as an improvement in UX and a trackable event (such as an accordion drop down).

In practice
In the new world of minimum viable product (MVP) and iterative product development it can be very difficult to justify the value of micro interactions to the point where they’re included as part of initial product releases. The best way to ensure that micro interactions are included is to clearly articulate the business value of their intended user experience right up front in the initial requirements phase of product development.

Once the overall business value of the intended user experience has been established, it’s then reasonably straight forward to manage their design and development through the rest of the production process. One of the most popular, and successful, ways to achieve this is by identifying through granular user journeys exactly where these “moments of delight” will occur. E.g. if you’re creating a shopping experience will these interactions happen at the point where users search for products, view products, add products to shopping carts, purchase goods or will they happen post purchase?
There are always multiple opportunities to add microinteractions – creating them all can be potentially quite expensive. Prototype testing, especially with rapid prototype techniques, can often help define where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. These can be identified by where users stop to ponder what’s going on or possibly processes that they skip through really quickly as they’re considered “dull but necessary” steps in a common process.

All in all, microinteractions make the difference between good and great. They’re the brushstrokes of an artist. Don’t let your canvas become a bland wasteland of content without the bells and whistles.

Alan Clark
Alan Clark
Alan has spent over 10 years working in digital and database marketing, running a variety of both small and very large projects from initial strategy through to full delivery

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