Microinteraction In UX: The Secret Weapon To An Everlasting User Engagement And Retention

When you run a video on YouTube, what do you see? Before the video starts playing, it takes a certain time to stream the content. Till then, you get a buffering icon in motion displayed on the screen. This is a perfect example of Microinteraction.

Basically, any visual representation of a particular process can be called a MIcrointeraction. They act as building blocks that eventually enhance a UX. If UX is a cell, microinteraction is the DNA.

Let’s break it down:

Microinteraction- What Is It Exactly?

As an integral part of the UX, microinteraction is a process that conveys a function being undertaken by an app/software as directed by the user. Examples include: loading, buffering, etc.

Also, it enhances the visual elements associated with small functionalities. You know how the Like button glows before you click on it. And how it reacts when you finally click on it. Same can be applied to the comment section, share buttons, subscribe buttons, etc.

If you’d like a more physical example, then there’s no better instance than an elevator. What do you see? A series of buttons? Yes. But what happens when you press one? That’s right! It glows. This is microinteraction.

You might not realize, but this simple act of glowing creates a pleasant experience for the elevator user. Just imagine if it had not glowed. Not so visually satisfying isn’t it? Also, you wouldn’t know if the process is being undertaken by the elevator or not.

Same can be done with the app/web interface to create a satisfying UX.

Some Illustrations To Clear Away Your Doubts

Examples have always proven to be more fruitful when defining a concept. For a proper understanding of what microinteraction really is, take a look at these instances:

  • When you’re about to hit Like, the button glows blue. When you finally hit the button, it gets slightly pressed, doesn’t it? This acts as an indication that an action has been undertaken.
  • When you visit a website, you see About Us, Services, Blog, Contact Us, etc. When you take your cursor over one of them, it gets colored (usually in alignment with that of the website in order to avoid sharp contrasts). If you move your cursor left and right, the individual sections get highlighted separately. This too is an example of microinteraction.
  • When turning a feature on or off, you’ll find how the button moves to and fro between the two options. When you click OFF, the small bar (white/black/etc) moves over to the OFF. Same with the ON part. This is functionality based microinteraction.
  • Another thing you’ll notice nowadays, especially in news sites like TechCrunch, is that whenever you scroll up and down, you’ll see a certain circular icon that follows your movement as you navigate.

    It has a certain motion color set along its edge that indicates how much of the page you’ve covered. Suppose the page is pretty long, this helps the reader to know their current position on the page. Also, it comes with a cross button embedded in it, so that the user can exit the article without leaving the site.

    The article would close, leaving the user on the home page from where he/she can navigate to any other topic they deem interesting.

So you see how microinteractions help in creating small steps that eventually lead to enhanced UX. There’s no denying that information architecture forms the basic framework for a powerful UX, but at the same time, microinteractions enhance or catalyze the process of UX betterment.

If information architecture is the skeleton, microinteractions are the nerves that trigger functions and respond to users accordingly.

So Why Is It Important For UX Design?

As mentioned above, there are fundamentally two elements that lead to a good UX, namely: Information Architecture and MIcrointeraction Elements. While people acknowledge the importance of IA, microinteraction as a process often remains unnoticed. But what we fail to realize, is that without it, the former remains incomplete. See how the process of microinteraction comes handy:

  • You create the architecture and basic workflow with the help of IA, but it is of no use if the user doesn’t get hooked to the small details that are associated with every step. Microinteraction helps you fill those minute details.
  • Customers love exercising control over the interface they’re using. While IA helps in smooth navigation and process flow, MI gives them a feeling of control by visually portraying the individual processes being conducted.
  • Not only that, MI individually highlights each section a user approaches, rendering a sort of visual satisfaction on a very visceral level.
  • This, in turn, increases the value of that particular section in the user’s mind ladder, as well as simultaneously raising the interest level from the user’s end, prompting them to click on it with confidence and satisfaction.

So you see, microinteraction helps in amplifying the brand value of an app/website. Collaborating with IA, it helps to create a total package in providing the right UX.

What Are The Four Fundamental Steps That Best Define Microinteraction?

You simply can’t write on microinteraction without coming across these four steps coined by microinteraction guru Dan Saffer. In his book “MIcrointeraction”, Saffer classifies the entire process of in the following steps:

Four Fundamental Steps

  • Trigger Element: Any action that triggers a microinteraction process is counted as a Trigger Element. For example, clicking on the button, which triggers a process.
  • Rules Element: This determines the function itself. For example, you press a button, and it navigates you to the respective page.
  • Feedback Element: This informs the user that a process has been undertaken. For example, you click on something and it gets pressed or highlighted.
  • Loops Element: The user being influenced by a microinteraction tends to indulge in repetitive use of that particular function. Microinteractions are implemented in a way so that the user psyche gets hooked to it. It prompts the user to come back more often. This is the Loop Element, where a user falls in a behavioral loop of repetitive interaction.
So How Do You Build A Good Microinteraction Environment For Your Interface?

Suppose you’re planning on building an app. Or maybe you’re already in the development phase. But you have no plan for including microinteraction as of yet. You read this article and become willing to incorporate the same. But how do you go about it? Considering you’re in the IA phase, here’s what you can do:

  • When developing a certain section of the interface, for example, the About Us section, ask your developer to come up with a code (programming) that can recognize the cursor location on the said element and automatically highlights it for a better visual appeal. Also, when clicked, it should appear as if slightly pressed.

  • After that, comes the navigation part. After the user clicks on a section, it is programmed to lead him/her to the next setup. What you can do is, introduce a buffering like feature portraying the ongoing process.

    This will help you to keep your users engaged, in case they’re on slow internet connections or maybe the page loading is taking longer than expected. Imagine what would happen if you don’t use this.

    The user would simply feel your app/webpage is not working. They would never come to know that the issue is arising from the browser’s end. As a result, you’ll lose a customer. Instead, use this technique to keep them engaged in similar situations.

  • One thing that most interactive apps have in common nowadays is the like-comment-share section. Suppose the app you’re developing helps the user to browse through different travel locations across the world and choose their favorites.

    Use the microinteraction highlighting technique on the like buttons, so that it creates a good UX whenever someone brings their cursor over it. As stated earlier, it should show a pressing effect once clicked.

    Coming to the share buttons, you can create a sort of dropdown consisting of different sharing options like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. so that whenever they bring their cursor over this section, it gets highlighted with a specific color and displays the dropdown simultaneously.

    [Note: the colors used in all the three sections should be similar to avoid too much visual contrast]

  • You can also use the buffering model for different kinds of websites/applications. Just replace the buffering motion icon with those that suit the respective platform. For example, if you’re building a payment app, you can display a coin stack in linear motion or bank notes being shuffled as the process of payment is carried out.

    Or take for example an e-commerce app, where users keep adding different items to their personal cart. You can use a motion cart icon to inform the user that the selected item is being added, etc.

So you see, there are ample scopes where you can employ microinteractions. Strategic use can successfully engage a user for the long term, thus fetching more and more brand value.

What Effect Does Microinteractions Have On The User’s Mind And How Do They Respond?

Till now, we covered what are the different types of microinteractions and how you as an entrepreneur can incorporate it. But that is just one side of the coin. The other side is the customer. Understanding how they respond to different kinds of microinteractions can help you to gear the process more effectively. See what effect microinteractions have on the subconscious mind:

  • When a user comes in contact with a certain microinteraction, it triggers a subtle signal in their nervous system that makes them want to use it more. This results in a Habit Loop.
  • As a consequence, the user keeps coming back time and again to interact with the product. So you see, it retains a user/customer for an indefinite period.
  • Visuals are something used by every marketing strategist, as they are aware of the tremendous benefits that come with them. And microinteraction as a visual element can manipulate a user psyche to create conversions.
  • The feedback element of microinteraction generates a feeling of comfort in the user’s mind, and we all know how customers enjoy exclusive control when navigating through their desired product.
  • The very movements offered by microinteractions generate a comfortable feel that connects with a user on a visceral level. This results in customer appeal and a rapid increase in the user base.
Final Thoughts

By now you must have realized that the core function of microinteraction is to bring IA to life. It enhances the dynamic nature of a website/application. While people tend to overlook the significance of microinteraction, they, however, feel the crunch when those features fail to work.

It is important you address those minute subconscious changes that result from this process, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they appear. Remember, these small effects eventually lead to successful UX. In the words of Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

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