4 Companies Building Micro-Interactions, Personalization and Storytelling Into UX/UI Design

How user-centricity is changing UX/UI design.

Written by Taylor Rose
Published on Dec. 12, 2023
4 Companies Building Micro-Interactions, Personalization and Storytelling Into UX/UI Design
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40,000. 

That is the number of plant species that live in the Amazon Rainforest. To put it in context, one-third of all tropical plants are found there. The Brazilian rainforest is the most biodiverse place on the entire planet — but that is only possible because of the Sahara Desert, located 3,000 miles away. 

The Sahara Desert was once an ancient sea, which means today the sand has nutrient-rich phosphorus. Wind currents carry that sand over the Atlantic Ocean, bringing the vital nutrient to the Amazon, allowing tropical plants to thrive. 

The level of biodiversity in the Amazon is remarkable, but it doesn’t happen by chance. It is made possible by thousands of small grains of sand. If a UI/UX designer were to talk about this process, they might describe it as micro-interactions all creating a harmonious experience.  

Built In caught up with four UI/UX professionals to learn their thoughts about how micro-interactions, personalization and storytelling are the next vital nutrients in user-centric design. 

 

 

Becca Collins
UI/UX Designer • InspiringApps

InspiringApps is an award-winning developer of mobile apps and digital products.

What trends in UI/UX design excites you the most right now and why?

There are a lot of great trends right now for user-centric design, and one that’s exciting to me is what’s called micro-interactions. These can be described as subtle moments of animation when using an app, such as providing visual feedback and confirmation about a task, progress and status indicators that can keep users informed of what’s happening while they wait for something to load, and data visualization. Micro-interactions can be applied to any app — I think they’re especially nice for products that need to show a lot of data and content that can be kind of dry, but in a way that’s more engaging for a user.

 

“Micro-interactions can be applied to any app — they’re especially nice for products that need to show a lot of data and content that can be dry, but in a way that’s more engaging for a user.”

 

Ultimately, micro-interactions provide users with a greater understanding of an app and create moments of delight, which in turn create higher user retention rates. At InspiringApps, we always keep the customer in the forefront of our minds when making decisions.

 

How have you implemented personalization and storytelling in your projects?

Personalization can simplify a user’s experience and simultaneously create elements of surprise within familiarity. A common example of this is seen in streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, where music and videos are recommended based on a user’s listening and watch histories. It allows the users to constantly be provided with new entertainment that’s relevant and exciting to them without them having to do any extra work for it. Personalization can also be seen in UI as it relates to user-centered greetings and high contrast color palettes available for those with accessibility settings turned on.

Storytelling through design can transform the experience even more. We can engage users by adding narrative copy, illustrations, animations and avatars. Effective design makes the product a companion to a user — rather than a stale or complicated experience.

For example, I helped design a meal-planning app for people with disabilities in which the content that’s presented is dependent on the user’s profile and needs. Clear actions are suggested based on the time of day and animated tutorials guide the user through certain parts of the app.

 

In your opinion, what are the key benefits of incorporating these customer-centric trends into design? 

When we incorporate customer-centric trends — like micro-interactions, personalization and storytelling in UI/UX design — we’re making decisions with our end users as the focus. We’re ensuring users feel understood and satisfied with a product, and by creating that positive customer experience we also increase conversion rates and brand loyalty.

Our world is filled with option fatigue. We’re saturated with apps we don’t know we need or will benefit from. Customer-centric UI/UX design increases word-of-mouth referrals, and trusted referrals are among the most powerful methods to acquiring new customers. When someone a user knows and trusts is saying good things about your product or service, the impact can be exponential.

 

 

Toast employees sit at a desk looking at laptop together.
Toast
Tara DiMaggio 
Senior Director, Design, Consumer Experiences • Toast

Toast is an all-in-one point-of-sale and restaurant management platform for businesses in the food service and hospitality space.

What is most meaningful to you about your current role? 

As a product designer at Toast, I have strongly believed for a long time that designing the right experiences for guests and restaurants means that we are facilitating not just the transactional experience, but also the emotional moments that help them become sustainable, critical partners to each other and within their communities.

Just a couple of years ago, we were designing experiences based on what we learned through interviews, conversations and connections with restaurateurs and guests — along with some trial and error. Today, we continue to do that, but we have an opportunity to use technology and AI-driven data to learn and power these experiences more quickly and automatically. This can help drive inclusivity and accessibility at scale, which we need to make food experiences better for all. We haven’t even tipped the iceberg with what is possible, but it will be important for us as designers to ensure that we’re bringing the human and emotional experience into those moments. I’m really excited about what technology makes possible here.

 

“We have an opportunity to use technology and AI-driven data to learn and power these experiences more quickly and automatically.”

 

What is unique about your industry and the user experience in UI/UX design?

In our work, it’s impossible to ignore the power of “feeling like a local” and what it means to have a less anonymous dining experience. Getting design right is a lot about context and circumstance, so we pay an outsized amount of attention to the restaurant and guest context. We think about what type of experiences guests want and what type of experiences restaurants aim to provide. We also think a lot about what it takes to fill the human gap when guests order at home without a server for takeout or delivery.

We’re excited to build this “local and connected” brand expression into our products, paying it off with the design language, illustration and motion, messaging and tone. These guiding principles will drive how we enable tons of personal moments in all touchpoints between restaurants and their guests. 

 

What is changing in your realm of UI/UX design? 

The principles I’m describing here in designing great experiences are not new! We want digital to feel very human and enable restaurateurs to do what they do best more easily. What’s changing is the technology that’s available to us to serve up these types of experiences more consistently and seamlessly. So many awesome restaurant owners and employees operate with individual guest behavior data in their heads, but not everyone can do that. We want to make it possible for all employees to hit the ground running.

What’s also changing is the ability and speed at which our design teams and our restaurants can see what’s working and making an impact for their guests. Restaurateurs want to be able to get ahead of issues that may be arising, thank a loyal customer on the spot, and ensure that each guest feels emotionally connected to the restaurant’s unique story. Guests also want to be able to recognize, thank and support a restaurant for great service and for being a valuable part of their local communities. In design, we have the power to pull on these threads and facilitate this and we’re confident that this meaningfully drives a stronger bottom line for restaurants. 

 

 

 

Aaron Knoll
Senior Product Designer • Crafted

Crafted is a digital transformation partner that combines product management, product design and engineering to rapidly de-risk and ship value to users. 

What types of UI/UX design trends excite you the most?

The emerging user-centric trend in UI/UX design that excites me most is the focus on accessibility and well-being. Designing accessible products is more than just checking that your color contrast is good enough. 

New attention is being paid to neurodiverse users, such as considering how ADHD affects how people use products, or how to design better experiences for users based on their handedness. Accessibility is evolving towards a much more inclusive and broad-reaching definition, which means designers need a far broader and more nuanced understanding of how people use products and devices. 

 

“Designing accessible products is more than just checking that your color contrast is good enough.” 

 

When it comes to well-being, designers must also consider if a user spending ten hours a day on a product is really good for the user. There’s a bit of pushback in some apps and instead of designing hook-laden, addictive products, some now ask if you want to take a break. People like people who care about them, so why shouldn’t the same thinking be applied to products?

 

Personalization and storytelling are both a big part of UI/UX design. Can you provide an example of how you’ve implemented either in your projects? 

Personalization is transformative because it allows designers to create user experiences about the user rather than the destination. Products will no longer be limited to targeting a single persona, and those outside the traditional user base will be able to modify their experiences to fit their needs. Storytelling is transformative because it leverages human psychology. Stories are better recalled by listeners than information on its own, and are more likely to change minds than mere data.

I was working with a client who was designing a project for relationship-driven small business owners. Early on, I sat down in these people’s offices to observe how they interacted with both software and their colleagues. I came away with a ton of insights, like what processes were still being done on paper before being entered into the software. I used storytelling to share my observations with the client, and described one owner as illuminated through one thing that happened during the day. I thought it was particularly powerful because the format inspired the client to be tuned into the right details, and people would reference those stories while planning and scoping additional work.

 

How do customer-centric trends in UI/UX design contribute to creating engaging and impactful moments?

With personalization, accessible technology can be more than just an afterthought. Accommodations that were previously overlooked because they could be disruptive to the average user can be implemented for specific individuals. With storytelling, designers or predictive technology can create customized experiences for the user and allow them to engage with products faster and more efficiently. Ultimately, you’ll create user experiences that are just that much better.

Also, returning to a user-centered mindset is good business sense. Technology can evolve faster due to the focus on creativity and innovation, and user success will feed business success and result in an exponential growth cycle. People often build emotional relationships with companies and products. 

Some of the current trends in accessibility and user well-being are powerful ways to forge a connection with your users and force them to think about themselves and their well-being within the context of your product. A mentally healthy user is a sustainable user, and in a hyper-competitive tech landscape, it can be an advantage to attract that 5 percent of users who require additional accommodations.

 

 

 

Matt Queen
Design Practice Manager • iTrellis

iTrellis is a custom software and systems integration consultancy.

Which emerging user-centric trend in UI/UX design excites you the most?

Designing tools for scientists, engineers and other technical users often involves creating interfaces that support multiple activities and user types. In recent years, personalization has evolved from simple look-and-feel settings to enable user-specific workflows within single applications. This can result in wildly different views for different user groups, revealing effective problem-solving strategies and new design patterns.
 

How do you see personalization and storytelling transforming the user experience in UI/UX design? 

We start by discovering key user activities and breaking them down into tasks and actions based on user interviews and observations. We then explore radical personalization opportunities, allowing users to transform layouts, data display, input and output automation. Saving state for all personalizations enables users to resume where they left off and yields a rich dataset of context-specific user interface design decisions. 

For example, in our design work for MarqMetrix, we created design patterns that allowed users to change elements in key views, transforming them into large projectable operations dashboards for lab personnel, personal duty logs for lab technicians or device troubleshooting tools for chemists. We store and examine user personalizations to observe expert problem-solving with the underlying product technology. The personalization system itself helps iteratively uncover new design patterns.

 

What has become your go-to example when you think about personalization in design? 

Radical personalization makes products essential to users’ workflows, not just the workflows you design. Technical product designers joke that every project starts with, “So we have this spreadsheet …” and ends with, “So how do I export all this to a spreadsheet?” 

 

“Technical product designers joke that every project starts with, ‘So we have this spreadsheet …’ and ends with, ‘So how do I export all this to a spreadsheet?’” 

 

Spreadsheets are a prototype of radical personalization. They have become the de facto tool for data-shaping, and by extension problem-solving, through afforded and stored personalizations. All software products can employ radical personalization to become indispensable to users and powerful observability tools for designers.

 

 

Read MoreHow to Practice Sustainable UX Design

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

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