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Microinteractions, Emotional Design and Humanity.

I’ve been using Twitter since 2012, I have seen the product evolve and I can say that I have grown with the product and the company. In my earlier years, Twitter was merely a product to me but it has become way more than that now — it has become part of me and my daily routine. Now, there are a million reasons you can give for that — the nice interface, cooler features, my lack of friends and a life — but I think a major reason why the product has stuck is because I have been able to build an emotional connection with it. I personally think my connection with the product can be partly attributed to the simple and intuitive microinteractions on the platform. Interactions like; favouriting a post, changing the favourite interaction from the star icon to the heart icon, the pull to refresh interaction, and all the other invisible interactions are what keeps the platform interesting, and that’s because of how much they all mimic real world interactions and conversations.

Products and interactions like this, (alongside my amazing colleague, Torian) inspired me to spend time understanding the intersection between microinteractions and emotional design, and how we can leverage microinteractions in creating experiences that stand as an extension of the physical world. Microinteractions are seemingly small alluring moments built into an experience that has a huge impact on the overall experience of users. Dan Saffer, who in my opinion is the father of modern microinteractions theory, defined microinteractions as contained product moments that revolve around a single use case and have one main task. A good example of a microinteraction would be; liking a post on Facebook or Instagram, or favouriting a post on Twitter, or even picking a password and setting an alarm.

Microinteractions in my opinion is a cool way for us to replicate the physical model of body language (gestures, facial expressions, haptics and physical movements) in our digital systems. According to the 7% rule, 93% of a conversation is nonverbal — 55% being body language and the other 38% is the tone of voice (which represents writing style and the information structure). I believe the same holds for product design, so 93% of the “conversation” is not based on components and copy, it’s based on the interaction design, with the focus being on how users communicate with products and how the product communicates with the user. This means we need to start thinking beyond visceral emotional design and seek out opportunities for behavioural and reflective emotional design.

I think conversations around replicating physical communication in digital systems is heavily understated, particularly because we tend to forget that communication is not just talking to someone, it’s a continuous loop of listening, processing and giving feedback. In the design of digital products, we need to start thinking about interaction design in the same guise, and start asking ourselves questions related to the interaction of users with our product and vice versa. Doing this will result in more humane designs, which is where I believe emotional design theory comes into play. The way I see it; we need to design interactions and microinteractions in a way that prevents humans from switching modes (modes being context and mental models), in a natural way that replicated the physical model of body language.” Users not having to switch modes and things working the way they expect them to are key tenets of behavioural emotional design, this means that there is opportunity for us to use microinteractions to implement behavioural emotional design.

I intentionally used the word “humans” in the previous statement because sometimes, we focus so much on designing for users and customers that we forget to design for their humanity. The way I see things, our users and customers are first humans, then users or customers. So this is a push for designers to go a level deeper, for us to go past user-centricity to human-centricity, which is where reflective emotional design theory comes into play. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our product/services evoke certain emotions in people. Most products choose to ignore this fact and focus rather on creating aesthetically pleasing interfaces, but I am of the opinion that they are missing out on a big opportunity to create a personal connection with their users. Focusing on forming a personal bond with the customers may not have a tangible short run benefit but in the long run, it makes your product sticky and initiates customer loyalty which has long term benefits on revenue, customer satisfaction and overall business outlook.

So with microinteractions the human becomes the main focus and with that, the focus shifts to personal connection as opposed to predominantly task completion and that can make a product seem, not only more crafted to the user’s needs but also more humane. Microinteractions can be used in creating signature moments in your product which can be interpreted as the third level of emotional design. IDEAN defines signature moments as interactions that occur at a specific point in a customer journey that turns an otherwise ordinary journey into an experience that people remember. The focus on humanity, forming personal bonds and creating signature moments are all at the reflective level of emotional design, which in my opinion is the most crucial level because it is at this level that a sense of belonging and ultimate customer loyalty can be achieved.

Something worth noting is the fact that microinteractions, when properly implemented can elicit two different reactions from people — delight and no reaction. The former occurs when an interaction wows the users and leaves them feeling good, while the latter occurs when an interaction mimics their mental model (i.e: they expect it). The latter, in my opinion should be the goal because it portrays a seamless experience and I believe that should be the core goal of every product. Nevertheless, it’s sometimes good to have purposefully delightful and noticeable experiences because everyone loves experiencing some level of delight. So in summary, I think we designers and product people need to actively seek out opportunities to leverage microinteractions in; uplifting the mood of users’, making them comfortable using your product, and guiding them on how things work. The result of this would be an enjoyable and delightful experience that leaves your users feeling cared for and fulfilled. And I mean, who doesn’t want to feel cared for and fulfilled?

Disclaimer: This article is based on some research I’ve done in the past and reflects my thoughts and opinions. It is in no way a theory or principal truth, thanks :)