In “Microinteractions”, Dan Saffer explains how focusing on product details can enhance user experience. The question is: Could we talk about microinteractions in a service design context?

Saturday morning. I was reading the newspaper in the train to Barcelona when, all of a sudden, the train stopped. D’oh! Five minutes went by and nothing happened. Passengers began getting nervous. Some people complained about the train service. Other just continued reading or listening music, resigned. Ten minutes. Someone telephoned to say that he was going to be late. Finally! The train began to move.

Whenever a similar thing happens, I always remember something that happened to me while living in Paris. One day, going to work, the metro stopped unexpectedly. Almost immediately, the passengers could hear the driver’s voice: “We must remain stopped for short period of time. We apologize for any inconvenience caused”. After one minute, the metro continued its way. I was astounded.

Why am I explaining this? I recently read the (great) book “Microinteractions” by Dan Saffer, Director of Interaction Design at Smart Design.

In his book, Saffer explains how focusing on details can enhance user experience. Those details are microinteractions.

Microinteractions are the small pieces of functionality that accomplish only one task, such as adjusting the volume in a music player. Summarized very briefly, microinteractions are made up of four parts:

  1. A trigger that starts the microinteraction. It can be initiated by the user (e.g. a button) or it can be a system trigger (e.g. receiving an email).
  2. The rules that determine how the microinteraction works (e.g. once the user turns on the light switch, the light stays on until the switch is turned off).
  3. Feedback is any signal that helps the user to understand the rules (e.g. the sound indicating that we’ve received a SMS). Both feedback and the lack of feedback are design choices.
  4. And loops, that are not relevant in this post.

What particularly caught my attention was that microinteractions refer always to product-user interactions, be it an iPhone, a lamp or a washing machine.

This led me to ask myself: Could we talk about microinteractions in a service design context? ¿Would microinteractions keep their structure? In my view, I think the answer is yes. Let’s return to the beginning of this post to illustrate it.

In the Paris Métro case, the trigger was some type of incident. The rules were that when an incident occurs, the driver must stop the metro until it has been solved. And feedback was the voice of the driver telling us we should wait for a short period of time.

On the contrary, in the Barcelona train case, we ignore which is the trigger. It was an incident? The driver had gone mad? Who knows. And, obviously, passengers also ignored the rules since there was no feedback. Well, actually, perhaps the driver considered that stopping the train was enough feedback.

Certainly, the increasing role of technology in service design is blurring the frontier between product and service.

Functionalities that until quite recently weren’t possible or depended solely on the human factor, now can be systemized. Take, for example, those apps to know when our bus will arrive.

But, at the same time, it is also true that this “human factor” is increasingly necessary to enhance user experience and strengthen brand loyalty. Take, for example, the Apple Stores, the Nespresso Boutiques or the WordPress Support Forums.

This leads us to the conclusion that the design of microinteractions should take into account both the product and the service side in order to offer a holistic experience to users.