Have you ever found yourself commuting and suddenly realizing you are driving with your brain on autopilot? Even though you are totally zoned out, you are not driving off a cliff, you obey the traffic law and you are safe. Is it because you’ve gone the same road 10,000 times? Partly so, but also, it’s the way your car and your body work together through a series of interactions and microinteractions.
If we look into our everyday life, it consists of continuous series of microinteractions that often go unseen, almost at a sensory level. The thing is, they feel natural but they are 100% artificial, which means someone designed them and as UX researchers, we might want to learn from it.
First off, microinteractions are tiny visual keys that either help the navigation, illustrate actions, guide and motivate users to the next stage, and generally, create a delightful air about the software or a web/mobile app.
The effect of microergonomics
Good design has a lot to deal with ergonomics. This is where the cross-section of technology, science, and aesthetics happens. Ergonomics is tangible. At the same time it is abstract, as it can be applied to everything we as human beings produce, including the cities. It’s hard to evaluate the experience of living in a city if you only see it from a bird’s eye view. In order to learn how to live in it, you have to experience every bit of the city and you usually start small.
Microergonomics and small interactions surround us everywhere. The better they are designed, the more natural they feel and most of the time you wouldn’t even bother figuring out why things are the way they are.
“Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.” — Dieter Rams
We are used to having ergonomic interactions built-in to our daily life. They determine our adaptability to things around us, make us find workarounds, and uncover the real UX that feels natural as opposed to the artificial attempts to channel it according to some aesthetic vision. If we teach ourselves to tune into those microergonimics, we might be able to recreate it in microinteractions within our digital products.
This is a P-38 can opener. This one reliable accessory was as important as your weapon during war. The G.I.s’ daily interaction with this tool saved them from using bayonets to open their food. It was made tiny and simple and it is a masterpiece.
Functional over unicorn
There’s a reason why car control panels never really changed since the last century. Ergonomically, the semicircle positioning of indices is best in terms of accessibility. Driving involves a huge number of variables, like weather conditions, lighting, reaction time, road obstacles, physical and mental fatigue, and so on. Anything that has to cost you an extra second to understand the content of console element, might take away the crucial moment of a decision. Had it been treated as a general UI elements cluster, a car control panel would have been beyond all recognition from the past.
However, our mechanism of perception does not evolve as rapidly as the design of the interfaces can.
That’s why the functional digital control panel has to retain the microinteraction of the arrow movement upon the ignition by being predictable and analog. This, I bet will not replace the conventional accessible console design anytime soon.
At the same time, there is a ton of options how to perfect the UX of a control panel while staying accessible and functional. The natural wobble of the arrows is the microinteraction we expect to see once we force the engine, as the tachometer arrow is the only thing that connects the combustion engine to the UI. By imitating that microinteraction, we might access the new level of empathy.
Diverse over cautious
There is beauty in the things designed by nature. It’s interesting how we never wonder whether it was aesthetics or utility that dictated the design of certain natural things. Nature’s design is monolithic. It never falls into beauty and usability. It is diverse.
This is Romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower. It is an approximate natural fractal. It is also the Fibonacci spiral, a series of arcs whose radii follow the Fibonacci sequence. And it’s damn beautiful. Integrating AI and deep learning into industrial production reveals this diversity. Functional beauty is what it might be called.
I wish my heroes, the pioneers of technical aesthetics from the 1920’s with their obsessive dedication, had the access to the technologies of today. What would things look like today if the design did not form like the streets of Lower Manhattan, which according to Washington Irving’s “History of New York”, were shaped by the meandering cows of the Dutch settlers.
With a holistic approach to production, we might eventually overcome the abyss between design and development.
If we learn to treat digital production not as a consecutive chain of the opposite processes, but as a converged entity, we might come closer to creating some elaborate centralized tools with no regards to the limitations of a specific technology or platform.
Context over superficial
Everything exists in a complex connection with other objects. Often times these connections being beyond our perception, are of utmost importance to the ones involved. As recent studies unveil an incredibly intricate system of communication between the trees through the roots.
I had no idea trees can transfer information through chemicals, heal one another, and talk in the miles distance through fungi. That is some Avatar type shit. And all of this mind-boggling interaction is happening just beneath our feet. Imagine if the trees had their screens, how much of the interaction would have been going on beyond these screens? For the trees, this is their context, while in a superficial understanding, the trees stand separately.
On the mission to innovate, at some point we’ve lost the connection and started building isolated systems and closing up on them.
The flat design system sacrificed accessibility and interaction for the sake of a fresh outlook. What we can learn from the interactions in real life, is the universal connection of products and the environment they are born into. The off-screen life is way more engaging and those who can teach their digital experiences to react and adapt to it will tap into a new level of UX.
Concrete over duct tape
We recognize gold by the sound it makes. We recognize good shoes by the way they smell when you first buy them. And we recognize solid work by the way it feels.
Our (not so daily) interaction with snow is as various as it can get. We enjoy the product – the snow. It scales, it is multiple-purpose, it is deadly, but it is as simple as it is complex. If we zoom in, we see that every snowflake itself is a work of art, a powerful unit that aligns with its siblings to shape the product and let us shape further products from it.
Scalability, responsiveness, and unity is where the potential lies. If we look at our design systems as snow, would we appreciate it consisting of snowflakes, bananas, nails, and paper? We’d want it to be a set of beautiful and foreseeable snowflakes.
CSS being a solid markup language is the snow. And with the newest CSS tools and technologies, we can expect a new level of visualization, interaction, and responsiveness.
We tend to see beauty in useful things, at the same time, we make fun of things that are of little use. Take a look at chindogu inventions.
What is the reason for the unmistakable and immediate reaction we get from quality products? I think, it’s because the interaction with these products happens through our bodies.
We either use things to accomplish daily tasks or for entertainment. There are few things we know as good as we do our bodies. We are extremely sensitive to the feedback it has to whatever we put ourselves through. This is where practicality might be sacrificed if the convenience is severely compromised.
Now imagine having that kind of intuitive response to digital experiences as well. Our mind is way more flexible than our body and the threshold for bullshit we can put up with is very low. What I think we can expect while progressing as species whose life now begins and ends in the bubble of digital interaction, is this sort of practical sense for digital products. We call it UX, but eventually, this will be the only experience we go through in our daily lives.
Originally published at UX Planet