Designing emotional micro-interactions

In recent years, we’ve developed a new set of habit-forming micro-interactions. Currently, they’re emotionally lacking, so how can we fix

Introducing the FuelBand

The Fuelband - an amazing device, both in terms of design and experience. At present, it costs a mere £129. Trust me, it’s worth every penny. Reason? It fundamentally changes your behaviour for the better!

So what does it do exactly? Well, it sits on your wrist and by using its 3 acceleromenters, measures how active you are. Nike call this measurement Fuel.

And so the natural next step is for you to set a fuel target that you aim to reach each day.

And initially, you’re really quite motivated. You start to walk more during the day, go to the gym more and even get out and about on your bike (Nike advise that you wear it on your laces).

Every successive day of meeting your fuel target, you add to your ‘streak’. On the day I wrote this post, I can see that I’ve currently got a streak of 198 days.

But you do start to develop some “amusing” behaviours…

  • You brush your teeth for longer
  • You let your fuelband hand hang out whilst walking (even in freezing weather)
  • Showering and drying are much more violent
  • You start to develop strange hand gestures (air-chopping)

With curious results?

  • You have whiter teeth
  • You get a chapped/uncomfortable hand
  • Showering and drying are more fun
  • You become a karate expert

And combined with a WiThings (a wireless bathroom scales), earlier this year I was able to reduce my body fat percentage by 40% over 7 weeks!

But - and this is a big but - the FuelBand experience isn’t perfect though. Introducing…

The day of the Fuelband incident

I was left depressed, totally demotivated, robbed even.

But this is, by my own admission, an ‘amazing device’. What had happened, I hear you cry?!

Well, truth be told, I got a little drunk one night and forgot to check my fuel points. And because of this, I didn’t reach my target. I had a streak of 82 days.That had all gone in a flash. In my mind, I was thinking:

I invested so much into you, but what did you give back when I needed you most?

And so I gave up. The device soon died due to not being charged. I simply became unengaged.

This felt like a terrible experience.

And so, I’ve got a few tips for anyone looking to factor in emotional design to any projects around the quantified self.

  • It’s not enough to just support successes
  • Emotional investment is currently under-supported. If you’ve had a 160 day streak, and one day you fail, we should be there to hold your hand, not stare blankly at you and reset the counter to zero.
  • This is currently what happens. Instead, we should support the user by saying things like:

"Man, you had an incredible streak! It’s your longest by far, 90 days more than any of your friends, and you’re now in the top 1% in the UK."


"Hold your head high, because even though you missed a day, your activity level’s fundamentally increased, which is by far the most important thing. Congratulations Antony!"

The second generation FuelBand is rumoured to be launching soon, fitted with more sensors (heartrate, low-power Bluetooth) and the ability for 3rd party apps to use this data. It will be interesting to see if Nike have iterated their experience to help you through the bad times. Either way, I think there’s a lot of work needed in ensuring great failure experiences.

Let’s look at an experience we’ve designed that bakes emotion right into the core of the micro-interaction.

Micro-interactions designed with emotion and physicality at their core

The check-in - it’s a pretty standard habitual micro-interaction these days.But we’ve noticed that there’s a distinct lack of emotional design in experiences that allow you to do so. There’s more potential here than baseline social currency, meaningless quantified self and mayorships.

Why don’t we use this micro-interaction for a more meaningful purpose. Here’s what we’ve just done for new coffee shop Harris + Hoole.

Select my usual coffee choice when I sign up:

Go to the shop and check in. My name, face and usual coffee then come up on the cashier’s till:

I’m greeted with a smile and a “Hi Nick! Would you like your usual?”:

Agreeing, a stamp is then added to the card on my app. (If I’ve got enough stamps, the cashier can see this and they will ask me if I would like to use my free coffee):

I get my coffee, and my receipt has my name on it, spelt correctly! (No more ‘Anthonys’ or ‘Antoines’ any more).

All this means that the quality of real interaction between you and the cashier/barista is taken to a new level (the functional bits are already done for you). You instantly start talking about more interesting things than trying to remember what you wanted.

It feels like magic.

The experience has a relative lack of perceived technology, and feedback on both the app store and from the pilot study suggests that people absolutely love it. We’ve fundamentally created a new emotion-laden behaviour based on a habitual interaction (checking in) that previously had little physical meaning. It now feels like magic.


Closing questions to ask yourself when designing micro-interactions

  • Ask yourself - how much do I need to change my own behaviours to experience this new experience? The fewer changes the better.
  • How can we better inject emotional design into these micro-interactions?
  • How can we be empathic towards the user, especially when positive habits go off-kilter?
  • How can we make a habitual interaction more meaningful, and give back more to you than you gave out?
  • How can we pull people out of the isolationist digital world, and use technology to bring them closer to those in the physical world

There has never been a better time to think about these problems/questions - we’re privileged to live in a time of such immense change and what might one day be seen as one of the most important inflexion points in modern society.

And within this society, habits are formed every day. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ll have the power to shape and sculpt these habits, and fundamentally change how people think and feel on a daily basis.

The answers lie with you.

Good luck.Designing emotional micro-interactions