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Book review: Microinteractions

I've just sped through Microinterations: Design with Details by Dan Saffer. I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend it to anyone involved in interface design. Dan has a great writing style that's easy to get into to. The opening anecdote for each chapter nicely puts in context the theory that follows it, making it easier to relate to.

The only part of the book that lagged for me was the examples near the end. The theory throughout the book was presented clearly and simply, with tiny examples in situ, but the larger, more worked, examples seemed dry and not quite as illustrative as I expected.

What are Microinteractions? Dan says it best:

Microinteractions are contained product moments that revolve around a single use case.

They're not features: they're the interactive,functional, details of a product that together make up features. Dan references Little Big Details frequently through his book: it's worth subscribing to if you don't already. Dan argues that focusing on the microinteractions is the way to create a superior user experience, and he has me convinced.

He breaks Microinteractions into four parts:

  • Triggers
  • Modes
  • Feedback
  • Loops & Modes

The book breaks down each of these in detail. (The book's site has a one page PDF quick reference [direct link, PDF, 1.5MB], but I didn't find it that helpful: I found that the visual weights on some items don't correspond to their importance or hierarchy. I knocked together my own reference doc to print for the wall. It needs a bit more work...)

Throughout the book, I found that there were lots of bits and pieces in common with a Mobile First approach:

  • keep things as simple as they can be;
  • use smart defaults;
  • only add labels if clarity is needed;
  • simplify inputs and remove mental calculations on the frontend and let the back-end do the data cleaning and heavy lifting.

Here are a couple of other points that stuck with me from the book.

  • Use of movement and/or sound, and how humans are involuntarily attuned to these. I've been becoming more re-excited by CSS3 animation recently, and Dan's book has inspired me to go and experiment with them again.
  • Our brains like geometric shapes, so those make for good triggers.
  • You should be able to write our your rules as a simple sentence: if you can't, your users may have difficulty with them.
  • Make text relational rather than exact e.g. two hours ago, rather than 14:16.
  • Feedback is where the personality of the microinteraction comes in.

There's some great advice on how to fix dull microinteractions, and the Appendix contains advice on testing: it contains a list of some common complaints and gives pointers on where to start looking in your microinteractions to fix the problems.