5 Tips for designing with micro-moments in mind

Everybody seems so busy nowadays. Or at least that’s how I feel. Our busy lives mean we now spend more time doing… well what exactly?

The irony is, in recent decades our ‘busy’ lives are not actually as a result of an increase in our physical work-load and if anything, thanks to modern appliances and working practises we actually work less.

Unless you are one of those super organised people or someone who is not easily distracted, our lives can often seem fragmented as our focus shifts, with our attention meandering from one task to another.

With the proliferation of mobile devices and the capabilities of the services on those devices mean our ability to dedicate quality time to real-world tasks is becoming difficult. Like a balancing act, our focus is constantly shifting from these real-world physical tasks to digital or virtual ones.

Ironically, here’s a cat gif distraction that superbly sums up my point.

As designers we fail to fully appreciate just how fragmented our lives have become.

The alarm goes off in the morning, you check your emails. In to the bathroom, how’s that ebay bid going? Jump in the shower, your brain is full of the things you have to do today. The clothes iron heats up, you check your Instagram. The kettle is boiling, quick glance at the news headlines and the weather forecast. Feed the cat. Speak to your family. Leave for work.

Before you know it, you have used your phone 7 or 8 times to check your go-to apps and websites, oh and its only 7.30am. Throughout the day we embark on several digital journeys, we have them running in parallel, some with different timescales to others, all with different goals, as soon as one ends another starts. Some of these journeys are taken with a poor internet connection or no connection at all, others are done while doing something different entirely. A few seconds on one task, a minute on another, your focus split between your device and the real-world task you are doing.

The first few minutes of a typical day.

Micro-moments

Our fragmented lives mean people are inevitably using digital services in ways we may not have seen before, so as designers and makers should we consider the impact this has on our touch points with technology and our cognitive ability to cope with completing our goals. These in-between moments and the activities we complete within them are often referred to as ‘micro-moments’.

In a recent study it was discovered some of us touch our smart devices up to 5,427 times a day and yet how often do designers truly consider the frequency of visits, the duration or the situation the visit was undertaken.

To design a compelling digital experience, we need to consider:

  • The real-world task (or tasks) the user currently undertaking
  • Any other distractions they are experiencing
  • What they have just been doing
  • What are they planning to do next

Optimising for micro-moments

The advertising industry has already begun to capitalise on this micro-moment behaviour. Take searching for a holiday as an example, the next app you open after your few seconds of searching will likely feature your destination, hotel and the latest booking prices. Even if you forget you searched for something in the first place, one of your many social feeds will likely remind you until you carry out their desired outcome.

How apps start and what they immediately show you is becoming increasingly important. Whether they open straight into a feed of content, wait to load new content or show you the things you’ve missed. Every detail of those first few seconds has to be considered, especially as we are never sure how long visitors are going to stick around.

Google’s open source AMP project looks at ways content can be optimised across devices and is a great example of how seriously the big players are taking efficiency of delivery. It means web pages published in the AMP format load near instantly for the user.

The time between having the idea to look for something and actually finding the information you need is now practically indistinguishable. But it’s not only the time to return content that is important, a service’s ability to retain your state between sessions and then react to your change in circumstance and context is becoming increasingly key.

Location aware services go some way to contextualise the visit by enabling products to be more intelligent with how they serve their users. These include things you probably experience currently such as tailoring a user experience based on a location, tailoring content to be aware of location, showing directions from your current location or tagging user submitted content such as a geo-tag on a photo.

We often know where the user is and what they’ve previously looked at, but how can we make services even more helpful to their needs? How can we fully serve goals within a shorter time frame or across multiple short periods, making every second of the few seconds we have result in a meaningful interaction?

At Furthermore our process now considers the following aspects of a user’s journey, ensuring micro-moments are at the core:

  1. Transit state
    Features can be refined if we harness the data obtained by the device sensors. If you know someone is moving at speed and using their phone then perhaps they are on a train or bus. Is it appropriate to offer these people the same experience as someone who is stationary and possibly relaxing with a bit more time. 
    While we know we shouldn’t do it, those who have tried to read the news or text while walking will surely sympathise. Perhaps these scenarios would benefit from an audio play option or automatic switching to a jumbo font size if it detects that you are walking and looking at your phone at the same time.
  2. Connectivity
    The few precious seconds that we have people’s attention can often be when they are in areas of poor network coverage, this is not surprising when you consider that 17 million of us in the UK experience poor mobile connectivity. While many apps have some features that work offline, most simply result in the user staring blankly at a screen until normal service resumes. Consider what could be presented to make the time worthwhile, what can be loaded offline and what can be preloaded based on the user’s previous behaviour or intelligent guesswork.
  3. Environment
    We recently worked on a project for the University of Derby and the University of Sheffield looking at the positive effects noticing nature and the outdoors has on mental wellbeing. As part of the project we created a series of geo-fences around Sheffield. When a user entered or exited a geo-fence, our app sent a notification to prompt the user to submit something they had noticed in their surrounding area, either in nature or the built environment. The research hopes to determine whether people feel different in green spaces versus built spaces. If a correlation between green space and an improved mood is found for example, then we could use the findings to inform how we develop apps in the future. We could also provide recommendations of places to visit, things to see, do or buy could based on the current environment, the direction they are travelling or what they have seen on their travels.
  4. Recent actions
    A lot can be inferred about a user’s next actions by their previous ones. In our day-to-day life we assume a lot from our understanding of the world, our previous experience and our understanding of how humans behave. While walking along a busy street we’re surprised if the person ahead suddenly stops, causing you to stop abruptly or bump into them. We’re assuming due to their previous actions (direction, pace, surroundings) that their next action will be to continue walking. These small predictions are built into our every action. 
    Technology however, finds predicting our next actions more difficult, with the most basic problem for intelligent systems to overcome is deciding what to do next. In recent years the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning means our previous actions are becoming even more important to companies. Chatbots will predict your needs based on your previous interactions and that of millions like you. And right now, retailers like Amazon are using your profile data, location, search queries and order history to predict the things you’ll buy next. Of course not every company has the resources to be constantly monitoring previous actions, but small steps could be taken in a broad range of services to improve the experience of their users. It could be something as simple as remembering a user has placed an item into their shopping basket and returning them there when they return a few days later.
  5. Mood
    Our mood can go up and down like a rollercoaster. From the weather to the people around us, what we ate, how we slept, how healthy we feel or our current mental wellbeing. Our moods are core to how we behave and react. Our moods (either positive or negative) make us respond to triggers in different ways, with human to human interaction we are able to judge someone’s mood and adjust our reaction appropriately. Technology however is rarely aware of how we’re feeling and is therefore unable to react appropriately. 
    This could all be about to change. Facial tracking will be used to create customised expressions on iOS 11, with emoji’s reacting to the user’s facial expressions. And in this MIT project a car that understands the feelings people have while driving in an attempt to prevent an accident, using emotional data obtained via sensors to flag warning signs.

Conclusion

The next time you are sketching a user journey or conversion through an e-commerce flow, take a moment to consider the bits in-between your UI. The breaks, the pauses, the lost connectivity. Think about the best possible user experience for each of the scenarios and try to build a least one into your next product.

Don’t worry, if you’re not a designer or a developer, the best thing you can do is provide feedback to those who are, so they can make their experience for you even better. Make sure to tell them as much as possible when you do, how you felt at the time, what you were doing and where you were.

I would love to hear your thoughts as I’m sure there are things others look out for when developing for fragmented journeys.


This little insight was brought to you by Steve Johnson, Managing Partner at Furthermore and Go Jauntly.

Furthermore are a multi-platform digital product and service design studio based in London. We have one mission: to create innovative digital products that stand out in the landscape, are beautiful, purposeful and a delight for the user. Hot on user experience and user research, we believe good ideas can come at any point in a project, so we utilise agile methodologies. Hypotheses are always tested using prototypes and real users, with improvements being constantly fed back into our user experience and visual designs.

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