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 http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920027676.do