Humanizing Design

Designing with Signature Moments in Mind

Designing with Signature Moments in Mind

Dan Saffer wrote a great book about Microinteractions: those tiny pieces of functionality, rules and loops that facilitate a use case within a use case. A specific type of microinteraction is what Saffer refers to as a signature moment.

“Signature Moments are those microinteractions that are product differentiators. A custom trigger control (such as the original iPod’s scroll wheel) or an elegant “loading” animation or a catchy sound (“You’ve Got Mail!”) can be marketed as though they are features and used cross-platform or in other products by the same organization. A Signature Moment will help create customer loyalty and recognition. The Like button on Facebook is now so well known that it’s part of
the brand.”

Saffer, Dan. Microinteractions: Designing with Details O’Reilly Media, Inc.”, 2013.

Some of these signature moments you might have encountered can be more explicit, like booking a flight on Virgin America or creating an event with Fantastical. Other times, they are more subtle, like Yahoo! Weather (iOS) which shows the sun move across the horizon depending on the time of day.

One truth many designers and product teams fail to realize is that: when done in excess, even good and delightful things can become annoying and in some cases painful.

A couple examples:

  1. My wife hates to be tickled because growing up her older brother would do it so much that she associated something that normally invokes playfulness and laughter as torture.
  2. Cruise Directors, although well-intentioned, can drive patrons mad when they suggest another volleyball game, three-legged race, or conga line.

Analogously, some of our clients have the initial desire for their entire application to be filled with delightful, signature moments; to constantly shower the user with digital tickles. However, just like tickling and cruise directors, an application crowded with too many moments trying to elicit euphoria can lead to a cluttered and irritating user experience. Sometimes, users just want to get some information as simply and straightforwardly as possible.

When designing signature moments, the main focus should center on the user who will be interacting with the digital experience. Determine what parts of the experience will bring the most delight, the most surprise or the most relief, and exploit them in a way that is appropriate. And while you should always be on the lookout for incorporating a ‘signature moment,’ it’s often better to err on the side of pragmatism than flair. What are some signature moments that you can recall? Tweet us @HandsomeMade to share.


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