Digital Experience Solutions
How Micro-Interactions Enhance Your App Experience
By Natalie Sheffield

After a few hiccups in the evolution of UI, micro-interactions help bring an engaging human element to the interactions users have with your apps and services.

Micro-interactions are brief moments within a user interface (UI) that focus on specific tasks or interactions and offer feedback, communicate status, or prompt a response. Examples of micro-interactions include a button changing color upon hover, a progress bar displaying loading status, or a notification confirming an action.

The concept of micro-interactions isn’t new. Most people of a certain age (late Boomers and GenX) don’t want to remember Clippy (formal name, Clippit), Microsoft’s attempt to make the Windows 95 UI less jarring, especially coming from the dystopian world of MS-DOS and Windows 3.0. Clippy can be seen as a pioneer of micro-interactions. It “responded” to user actions and aimed to provide assistance when needed. However, Clippy and similar features (my favorite was Power Pup) ended up being more of a hindrance than a help, often disrupting your workflow by frequently making incorrect assumptions about your actions. Basically, Clippy wasn’t just unhelpful, he was also annoying.

Moving from Clippy to good micro-interactions

In a digital age where we can spend hours glued to screens, meaningful human interactions can sometimes take a backseat. Effective micro-interactions step in to bridge the gap between human interaction and digital responses. They do so by offering visual feedback, promoting engagement, and injecting a sense of enjoyment into everyday interactions on websites or apps. In essence, micro-interactions can serve as a means of humanizing your digital experiences.

Micro-interactions can be described in a simple flow chart: Trigger --> Rules --> Feedback --> Loop:

  • Trigger: A trigger Initiates a micro-interaction. Clicking a button, receiving a pop-up, swiping left or right to view another product, or seeing an animation are all starting points of a user’s experience with a micro-interaction.  
  • Rules: A set of rules is needed to build the sequence of actions that follow the trigger activation. In micro-interactions, you must define what happens and in what order when a user triggers an action. For instance, does clicking a button redirect the user to the next page? Does the "send" icon change color when you start typing a message?
  • Feedback: Rules must be invisible and intuitive. The response or sensation experienced when the rules are executed is called feedback. For example, feeling subtle vibrations on your smartwatch when turning its dial represents tactile (haptic) feedback, indicating the system's response to your action.
  • Loop: Loops determine whether the micro-interaction continues, repeats (loops), or ceases after execution.

This well-established flow is key to the success of micro-interactions. By following these steps, you can craft user experiences that are both effective and engaging.

When is it not good to use micro-interactions?

Just as eating too many candy bars can lead to an upset stomach, have too many micro-interactions can negatively impact a user’s productivity. It’s important to offer only the micro-interactions that are directly relevant to the current task and contribute positively to the overall user experience.

When should I use micro-interactions?

Think of micro-interactions as your digital assistant for managing workflows. These interactions offer subtle yet incredibly helpful guidance throughout your user’s digital journey.

Micro-interactions provide the familiar tactile feedback we all experience in our everyday lives. They are valuable because they convey information to users by indicating the status of an interaction, such as a loading bar showing how much longer a download will take.

Helping users see real-time results of their interactions only enhances the sense of direct manipulation, which users positively respond to. For instance, when a person presses a button and promptly sees the action triggered, it gives a sense of control.

When implementing micro-interactions, consider:

  • Providing visual and tactile feedback
  • Guiding users through your site to prevent distractions
  • Offering instant feedback, clear guidance, and intuitive affordances
  • Improving site satisfaction with valuable usability aids
  • Enhancing overall product usability to make it more accessible to a broader range of users

Tips for designing micro-interactions

Micro-interactions are the foundation of user-centered and intuitive design. They:

  • Guide users through an app or website
  • Provide feedback about user actions
  • Empower users by giving them control over processes
  • Offer recommendations and promote your services
  • Convey your brand personality
  • Infuse a human touch into the overall experience
  • Entertain users by creating a friendly environment

When integrating micro-interactions into your UI, it’s important to put yourself in the user’s shoes and create functional interactions that aren’t intrusive or annoying. Micro-interactions should be subtle and seamlessly blend into your user experience. They are not intended to draw attention but to leave the user with no questions. Micro-interactions are designed to address potential user issues while also adding a playful element to your overall design.

The guidelines for micro-interactions are constantly evolving and can change quickly. At Concord, we stay updated with these changes so that you don’t have to. Contact us to learn how to implement effective micro-interactions into your apps and services.

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