Review: “Microinteractions” by Dan Saffer; O’Reilly Media

After defining the topic as “single use-case features [of a user interface] that do one thing only” with a light switch as the iconic example, then arguing for the importance of getting the features of user experience right, then setting the goal of “dissect[ing] microinteractions in order to help readers design their own”, followed by a mostly-irrelevant but well-told introductory story about a cell-phone ring-tone destroying a musical performance, the author quickly establishes an analysis framework, dividing interactions into Triggers, Rules, and Feedback, and devotes early chapters to explaining each of the components.

The book, unfortunately, doesn’t fulfill this promising (minus that story) start.

Rather than an intensive and systematic dissection of single-use-case interactions, we’re given example after example (after example) of Triggers, then of Rules, then of Feedback, almost all drawn from postings to a single Website (“Little Big Details”),accompanied by a narrative which, by rapidly changing point of view and underlying metaphor, makes the analytical context confusing and causes all of these examples (and there are a LOT of examples) to just pile together, conceptually.

There are good ideas — use smart defaults, don’t start from zero, recognize “signature moments” — but they are presented in mind-numbing breadth rather than depth, with many, many examples but little analysis of why these rules might apply exactly this way in this particular context. The barrage of examples, to me, grew tiresome. You might have figured that out already.

Mr. Saffer tells us how to judge a successful feature — “what you’re striving for is a feeling of naturalness, an inevitability, a flow…” — and it’s a shame he didn’t apply that simple measure to his book.

I appreciate and generally trust the “Who Should Read This Book?” feature in O’Reilly books, but in this case it failed me — rather than the “anyone who cares about making better products” of the Preface, the right audience is professional, full-time user experience designers wanting to, and able to, hone their skills through exposure to examples. If that sort of person could have a much higher opinion of the book, and I wouldn’t argue a bit.

This book is available from O’Reilly Media at

A Fine Responsive Design Demo

Well on it’s way to becoming a trendy buzzword, “Responsive Design” means very different things to different people. An obvious statement, sure, but a designer/developer*, replete from months or years of reading, experimenting, and struggling with the difficulties of implementation has a very different understanding of the term than a busy, harried small-business owner wanting to upgrade their 5-year old brochure-type Website  so it looks good on a phone, and the different perspectives will require some effort to consolidate if the developer and the client hope to work to their mutual benefit. .

Brad Frost has come to help.

He has build a sweet, simple responsive demo-site, very useful for showing to a client (the busy, harries, small business owner of the first paragraph) what we developers mean when we say “responsive”, and by extension, to show that “responsive”, at least to a Web-developer, has a more restricted meaning than “works good on a phone.”

The demo is best used (of course in my opinion) with a full-sized browser which you can then gradually shrink to demonstrate the layout changes that occur at different breakpoints.

* I’m not certain there’ such a thing as a designer/developer in the Web domain anymore. Both are hard and require a lot of time to stay sharp, and it’s not easy to see how someone can do both well. I could be discussing my own limitations.

Being Good To Long-Term Clients

Shane Pealman tells us to  “Marry Your Clients” over at A List Apart. While I’m not likely to duplicate some of his techniques (I don’t see a roof-top BBQ in my future), I certainly agree with his general advice to explicitly nurture our long-term clients to the same sense of purpose with which we pursue new clients.

One specific suggestion he makes that I really like is to schedule some weekly time to reflect on how best to maintain, or improve, your existing relationships, and then to follow up with action.

Help for Paypal Developers

PayPal is awful. Good for users, both buyers and sellers, but awful for developers, with poor and often contradictory documentation, a sandbox feature that often doesn’t work at all like the live service…I could go on, but the difficulties have caused me to (fruitlessly) search high and low for an alternative.

Now, Smashing Magazine has published a piece by Eran Galperin, Getting Started With The PayPal API, which doesn’t make it easy but at least provides a credible road map.