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Thermostat V4: Microinteractions

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 | Posted by jacob.rader

I’m now into the fifth week of my thermostat design and it’s starting enter the next level of maturity.  The design began just as a rough outline of functionality; it entered the world as a rough wireframe; that design changed and simplified; last week it took on a new form; this week and in the weeks to follow the design will refine and mature.

Last week my design took a large step forward; the core functionality of the device didn’t change much, but the form changed drastically.  The changes that I implemented this week weren’t as dramatic, but they were deliberate and important.  My main goal this week was to test my design, both with users but also internally, with myself.  I want this design to reflect my intentions and that my ideas are clearly communicated to the user.  One of the primary ways we communicate with the user is through microinteractions.

Microinteractions are the singular interactions we have with objects, systems, or in this case, interfaces.  They’re usually as small as a swipe of the screen, or the press of a button; sometimes they can be as large as an app on your phone. Fundamentally a microinteraction only does one thing, but it does it well.  For most of us a thermostat is a microinteraction – it only does one thing, change the temperature. Once I looked at my thermostat concept through this lens I began to understand why the design has continually tended towards reduction and simplification.  Fundamentally the modern thermostat is overly complicated; I don’t need it to do a million things, I only need it to do one.

The changes I implemented this week and that have planned for the next iteration were driven directly by the make-up of microinteractions.  Essentially microinteractions have two parts, triggers and feedback.  A microinteraction should be easy to trigger and once you do, it should be clear that something has happened.  For example, when you adjust the temperature, it should be clear that the new temperature is set, but also that the system is responding by running the AC or heater.

A big part of my work every week has been user testing. Where, before I was testing the core functionality, this week I was focusing on the small interactions and relationships people had with my interface. Through testing I found that, despite my efforts, many of these interactions were still ambiguous, both in their triggers and their feedback.  Microinteractions are small moments that a user has with you as a designer and ultimately, it’s these small interactions that determine a users reaction to the device.  In these moments exists the opportunity for surprise, excitement, and joy, qualities that I want my device to have.

You can view all of my wires here: Week 5 Wireframes

As always feel free to contact me at jacob.rader@ac4d.com

- jacob

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