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Thoughts on development, user-centered design, code, etc. by Paul Robertson

Book review: Microinteractions by Dan Saffer (O'Reilly)

I recently read the book Microinteractions by Dan Saffer. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone involved in Interaction Design, creating user interfaces, or is interested in learning more about those fields.

My favorite part of this book is that it exists at all. That probably sounds weird, so let me explain. When I first started hearing about the book I wasn’t at all sure what it would be about. I wasn’t familiar with the term “Microinteractions” – in fact as far as I can tell Dan invented the term to describe the small-level details of a single interaction. Once I understood what it is about, and the philosophy of interaction design that it promotes, I was hooked.

This book perfectly describes my personal philosophy of what is most important in interaction design. I think the microinteraction level is the most interesting and also the most potentially powerful aspect of interaction design. At the same time, it’s the part of IxD that is unfortunately often ignored in a fast-paced software project schedule. In my experience, too often the budget for interaction design doesn’t allow for much more than working out the flow and layout of screens. Meanwhile, the details of how the interactions actually work is left to whatever UI component or framework is fastest to add to the project. However, I believe that, as Dan points out, the greatest value can be gained from focusing on those small details.

The book provides a thoughtful, grounded framework for how to think about these interactions and how to go about designing them. It also includes lots of great tips and guidelines to follow in the process. It’s full of numerous great (visual) examples to help clarify the ideas being discussed. Many of these, I was pleased to see, come from the excellent site Little Big Details.

My only complaint about the book, which is something I would love to see fixed in a revision or future edition, is related to the examples. (Yes, I did say they were something I liked. =) While the examples themselves are great, it sometimes took some mental effort to work out the connection between the specific examples and the points they were linked to in the book. To be clear, the examples were all valuable – it’s just that for a stretch of a couple of chapters, whenever the book makes a point and then says “see figure x,” the caption that goes with figure x doesn’t give enough detail to make it clear how what that figure shows correlates with the specific point in the text at the point where it says “see figure x.” Sometimes I was able to figure it out, though a number of times it took a fair amount of mental effort to figure out the connection, and sometimes I never did figure it out.

That problem annoyed me enough that I decided to deduct a star from the book rating. However, the book is still very much worth reading, and still very valuable. That’s just the little detail that kept it from being perfect. But you should definitely read it anyway!

Update: Dan Saffer responded (via twitter) to my complaint about the connection between the examples and the text:

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book for free as part of the O’Reilly Blogger Review program