Insight May 28, 2019

The Devil is in the Details: How Micro-Interactions Can Make or Break UX Design


Micro-interactions don’t get enough credit. No, it’s not that there aren’t thousands of articles extolling the virtues of micro-interactions (currently Google returns more than 320,000 results for the term). Rather, the sad truth is that while these tiny moments can mean the difference between a design that surprises and delights the user – or one that damages the user experience – they are often overlooked.

But these micro-moments matter. People may not realize how important they are, but they do notice when they’re missing because your user experience suffers. Which is important because 65 percent of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising, according to a recent PWC study.

You can think of micro-interactions like “product hygiene.” No one is going to write a compliment card to your boss praising you for wearing deodorant to the big meeting – just like most people aren’t going to wax poetic about your sign-up button functionality. After all, the features and content are what draw people to your product.

So, What Exactly Is a Micro-Interaction Anyway?
Simply put, micro-interactions are those little moments when a user interacts with your design. More specifically, it’s the animations or interface changes when you interact with something, anything, on your screen. Even before you take an action, these little design features can show you how you are supposed to interact with the content on your screen.

Think of things like the pull-to-refresh gesture on your Instagram feed, those three little dots that pop up in a chat window to let you know that the other person has already started to type their reply, or even the scroll bar on the right-hand side of this article, letting you know how much you have left to read. These are just some of the many micro-interactions that we encounter every day.

Dan Saffer, the man who literally wrote the book on micro-interactions, breaks down the experience into a four-step process:

  • Trigger. Every micro-interaction starts with a trigger, which can be user-generated or system-generated. It’s a cue that encourages a user to take action. A ringtone on your phone, the tutorial that appears the first time you download an app, or a floating icon prompting you to click to the next screen are all triggers.
  • Rules. The rules determine what will happen when a micro-interaction has been triggered. For example, if you miss a required field in a form and hit submit, the rules governing that interaction should serve up an error message informing the user that they need to go back and fill in the information.
  • Feedback. Providing users with information about what is happening in the moment can help distract the user from a potentially frustrating interaction.
  • Loops and Modes. It’s important to consider how micro-interactions should change over time. Loops and modes determine the larger, meta-rules of an interaction, adapting them based on user behavior. For example, if a user has already visited a website or spent time with your app, you may want to give them the option to opt-out of your tutorial for future visits.

Essentials for Designing Micro-Interactions

Good micro-interaction design accomplishes a single goal (e.g., turning a feature on/off, clicking on a call-to-action, etc.) but also delights the user in the process. The design creates a moment of joy – a little lagniappe – that turns a routine process into something magical and keeps the user coming back for more. In fact, companies that user the consumer experience as a key differentiator have 1.7x higher customer retention, 1.9x return on spend and 1.6x higher customer satisfaction rates, according to Forrester.

When you design micro-interactions, you’ll want to keep in mind the key roles that these moments fill for your users.

Improved Usability

All of these little details are designed to encourage users to interact with your website, app, or product. They can make them more fun and easier-to-use by helping new users understand the navigation or process flow.

Some micro-interactions will be apparent before you start building your design. If you’re designing a music player, volume control is an obvious opportunity for a delightful micro-interaction. Think of the little beeps that increase or decrease in volume as you toggle the controls. However, some micro-interactions will only become apparent as you get into a design. It’s important to reevaluate at every stage to identify opportunities to create a more intuitive process for your users.

Greater Sense of Control

Part of the reason that micro-interactions work so well is that they feed into the user’s desire for acknowledgement. As soon as you click, swipe, or scroll, you know that your action was successful. When a user interacts with your website and nothing happens, it’s frustrating – and it can cost you their loyalty.

Adding a simple loading bar can help keep your customer from wondering whether their payment has been processed while waiting for a new screen to load. Inline validation for your sign-up forms tells users whether they have all the relevant information as they fill it in, so they’re less likely to receive an error message (and abandon the process).

For every potentially negative user experience, you have an opportunity to create a positive interaction that leaves users feeling good about your product.

Want to learn more about how micro-interactions can elevate your product? Let’s talk.