Microinteractions (i)

microinteractions by Dan SafferMicrointeractions sits somewhere between the purely theoretical and conceptual (The Psychology of Everyday Things) and the practical (cite any how-to-create-UX-artfacts book on the market today).

It is a reinterpretation of concepts that have been around as long as, or longer than the UX field itself. “Atomic design,” or otherwise known as designing each complex interaction at the smallest level around which a user forms a cognitive model is a powerful thought, and one which the profession has done some serious soul searching in the past.

That is because designing for microinteractions is diametrically opposed to the level of the parti (which we talked about in an earlier bookclub) and often the level at which we approach things.

But specifically this post is about why this book should be required reading for everyone who touches software products from the highest level to the developers on the ground: simply the details have an incredibly pronounced effect on the final experience, and it is precisely many of these details which often get tweaked, glossed over, re-done (or even done a first time!) by folks who are not as close to the user experience.

The Microcopy!

How often I’ve seen the microcopy left to the very end. Too small to be written by your content experts, and so trivial (perceived!) as to be tweaked after the initial UX work. I’d say that I’ve learned that maintaining the integrity of this facet of a product is among the most difficult to see through the development process intact. You occasionally see additions of instructional text in blocks of descriptive text (page 101).

Another challenge of this small aspect is that it forces our content writers to think like UX designers do. When we imbue a button of a certain style with a contextual meaning, we do so with intentionality; but often a content writer uses the word because it means what it does.

“Every noun in your microinteraction should be unique. If you have two of the same nouns, consider combining them. Also make sure that any two (or more) nouns that look the same also behave the same… don’t have the same noun work differently in different places.” (page 82)

Considering the word decoupled from its linguistic context and looking at it as an object with an internal context can be challenging and unfamiliar. Consider the word as if a button style and it can create a powerful linguistic connection with your product, that compliments the rest of your design. Example: Facebook and the word “like” (page 100), or even the verb “friend” (though perhaps MySpace of Friendster deserve credit for that one’s ubiquity).

Next time we’ll talk about the salient lessons for UX practitioners. Because although we know not to ignore the details, Microinteractions reminds us of a few details which are sometimes a bit more below the radar.