ah teaches interface design (Teeny Tiny Actions and Patterns lecture)

Teeny Tiny Actions and Patterns

Lecture outline

Exploration of more interaction and interface patterns as well as the introduction of microinteractions. Lecture slides will be made available on the day of the lecture (June 22).

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Teeny Tiny Actions and Patterns


Whereas feature design is macro (big), microinteractions focus on the micro (small). One feature will be a series of microinteractions, and as a result, you have likely designed microinteractions before.

Sweating the Details

A microinteraction is a single task. An easy way to think of it is as a sentence: "Khoi adjusts the brightness on his phone display using a slider."

Sweating the Details

A microinteraction is a single task. An easy way to think of it is as a sentence: "Khoi adjusts the brightness of his phone display using a slider."

"Khoi adjusts the brightness of his phone display..." is the task being completed.

"...using a slider." is the object enabling completion of the task.

The Details

Microinteractions are comprised of a couple of pieces:

  • A trigger: A user or system initiation.
  • Rules: What is being controlled.
  • Feedback: A response to the initialization.


Triggers for microinteractions can either be user or system initiated. In either case, the user needs to be able to understand and learn the trigger to make effective use of the interaction.

A prompt indicating that a song already exists in the playlist, and asking the user if they want to continue or cancel adding the song

Clear affordances are important for visual triggers

An advertisement for Google Home

A trigger does not have to be a visible control

An iPhone screen dimmming

From Cult of Mac, triple tap home to dim the screen

The microphone toggle in a audio chat application indicating to the user that they may be muted while trying to talk to the group

From Little Big Details

Text indicating to drag a link to the user's bookmarks getting bigger as the user clicks on the link instead of dragging it

From Little Big Details


Rules are the often invisible control or response being solicited by a trigger. It is important to keep in mind the user's mental models, as well as how you help the user understand the rule.

A button indicating that pressing the Esc key will open a new tab and redirect the current page to Google

From Little Big Details

A prompt inviting you to "just apply already" that has appeared on a job posting page after the user has visited it multiple times

From Little Big Details

The Mac OS file menu open with the save and duplicate options showing

From Betalogue

Machines Are Better At

Microinteractions can be useful as they can help us with tasks that we (humans) are typically bad at. For example, machines are usually better at:

  • Remembering
  • "Multi-tasking"
  • Searching
  • Calculating

You Have Data

Depending on the device your interface lives in, you have access to further information on your user and the context of use. This data may offer you an ability to define better rules. Consider:

  • What is possible?
  • What do I know?
  • What could or should be collected?


This is the visual, aural, and/or haptic response your user receives. Your goal here is to give only what is necessary to help them understand the rules and understand the states.

The time on a small analogue clock icon changes as the user sets the delivery time for an email campaign

From Little Big Details

An email inbox with one email listed next to a fishing hook icon

From Little Big Details

The Yelp mobile app with a dinosaur dressed as a ninja indicating that the user's location cannot be found

From Little Big Details

The Microsoft Word assistant 'Clippy' asking the user if they need assistance

Clippy, a much maligned Office assistant

P2: Heuristics

For lecture...

To help offset some of the in-lab critiques, we are going to start using the second half of lecture for weekly crits starting June 22.

These crits will not be public and will require sign-up in advance. Attending the lecture crit time means you will be free from the lab crit time. There are five slots available per lab (D101, D102, D103).

You can start signing up today by messaging me over the course chat or via email.

Next week's lecture

UI for Humans

A recap of human-specific issues in interface design including (but not limited to) accessibility and culture. Pre-recorded lectures and slides will typically become available the day of the lecture.