Can’t get enough: the magic behind successful products

Ever wondered what’s the formula that makes a product great and different from the competition? It might not be what you think. Read below.

I still remember the days of early technology. When my dad bought our first desktop computer, messing around with MS Paint or playing Carmen San Diego were pretty much the only choices I had to spend my time, before the internet was a thing.

But these days the story is different. If you were born after the last Clinton presidency, chances are you grew up with touch devices attached to your hands that hooked up to super-fast internet connections and gave you access to a world of engaging connected experiences.

For this reason, when designing for today’s users, designers and developers face higher stakes and are required to carefully craft the products and experiences they launch, to make them stand out in this cluttered digital world.

So the question is: how can we make sure our products stand out from everything that’s out there, and make sure that users would pick (and stay engaged with) ours?

The formula for a successful product

While no one has a secret recipe to make products successful, there are two essential parts to creating a great product: the first, is nailing the product’s feature list, its ease-of-use and the brand identity that goes with these. The second part, focuses on the details.

And the details, instead of being minor, are a huge part of what keep your users engaged and coming back to your product. So, on top of having a solid set of features, a sticky name and sleek branding, we need to pay extra attention to the experience we create around using our product.

In this effort, there’s one particular ally that can push our golden child to the next level: micro-interactions. These are delightful animations that happen in small bursts, and unexpectedly delight whomever is using our product. They provide visual feedback, a much-needed sense of reassurance of an action a user just took, and ultimately appeal to the user’s emotions.

For instance, let’s look at the case of iMessage. This popular messaging service was recently updated with the latest version of iOS 10, and at first sight there aren’t a lot of visual changes. But once you start sending messages, the magic starts.

Depending on the messages sent and current mood, users can customize the way to deliver them: they can now pick invisible ink for something secret, or go with slam for an extra-powerful reply. In the other end, users don’t have a clue of what’s about to happen: opening their message will display a distinct animation, surprising users and sparking instant emotions.

And this isn’t exclusive to iMessage. For quite some time now, products like Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter have been banking on micro-interactions to make sure the experience users enjoy is different than the one they’d get by using any other product.

A few months ago, Facebook introduced reactions. Adding up on their iconic ‘Like’ feature, designers at Facebook wanted to provide users with a more diverse way to react to posts in their feeds. Reactions takes advantage of animated emojis and nice transitions, inviting users to explore and relate to a specific emotion that they can then, apply to a specific post.

Same happens with Snapchat. Trying to deliver an engaging app experience for their millennial user base, Snapchat has introduced easter eggs throughout their app. For instance, when a user pulls down to refresh, their recognizable gost jumps to the sides making the wait for new snaps to download, more joyful. Also, when scrolling to the bottom of a page, users can see a few ghosts playing basketball.

It might seem childish and redundant, but it’s not. It’s actually smart. Because when microinteractions are well thought through and nicely executed, they become essential parts of a brand’s identity and a key differentiator of the product that features them.

So as the stakes get higher and the challenges become more complex, delivering rich experiences along with highly functional products will be key for the discovery, success and survival of our products.

And even though there isn’t a specific way to create innovative microinteractions, there are several things we as designers need to consider in order to make one-of-a-kind, well designed ones.

How to design great microinteractions

When setting our minds to come up with a set of microinteractions for our product, we need to answer these questions: What’s our goal, and what do we want to accomplish with them?

Having those answers will focus our exploration and inspiration moments towards what’s right for our product and goal. Besides being simple, timely and connected to the action that caused it, the key factor to creating successful microinteractions relies on the branding aspect of them.

There’s a specific reason why all of the microinteractions we described above were widely successful, propelling the products in which they exist to the spotlight: they feel unique.

They’re bits of visual brand identity that take form in a delightful animation, converting an otherwise bland interaction into a delightful animated exchange.

Making sure microinteractions follow the same the visual language that exists elsewhere in our product is a must. It’s also important to balance the innovation and creativity we put into a microinteraction, with the rest of the user interface and graphics to make sure they coexist and don’t compete for attention.

Being mindful of when to use them and having an human factor that makes them relatable is also important to create that important emotional connection between the user and our product, which would be the key to user loyalty and repeated use.

As products become better and more robust, it will be our duty as designers and developers to adjust our creative process to fit these changing times, and integrate solutions like this into our products early on, paving the way to successful digital experiences.