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Micro Interactions: More Like Micro Aggressions

taught by: Shell Little

Session Summary

With the popularity of micro-interactions on the rise as mobile technology continues to grow, the barriers they create for people with attention-related and other cognitive disabilities rise along with it. In this talk Shell Little will discuss the difficult place we are at with these standard-less patterns that help some and block others using a variety of examples including in-the-wild patterns with a focus on mobile-based micro-interactions, all to answer the question ‘what is micro enough?’.


The criterion Pause, Stop, Hide covers moving elements lasting longer than five seconds, yet the time it takes to break a task is a millisecond. The new patterns being delivered these days are more aggressive than ever micro-interactions to encourage users to sign up, to make sure they know they can chat for help, and to sell them something. Beyond that, there are new features created to help users understand flows better, pull them in the right direction, or communicate the app has received user input. Because these interactions are less than 5 seconds they fall into an interesting 'standard-less' space. The web is becoming increasingly more overwhelming to users with Cognitive Disabilities, speaking as someone who has ADHD and is a Mobile Accessibility lead. We as a field have a responsibility to think about and move beyond the standards because we all know meeting compliance does not mean your site is accessible. It's a great start, but we can do more. This talk will start off with a definition of Neurodivergence (ND) and Spoon Theory, two concepts that are critical to understanding the experiences of people whose brains are wired differently than the Neurotypical minds. Using the foundation of these two concepts I will build a narrative based on personal experiences and those of my ND peers. We will then move into discussing Pause, Stop, Hide to learn more about the strengths of this guideline and the places this guideline has gaps. Using real examples I will discuss the idea of "what is micro enough?". I'm not advocating for the removal of micro-interactions, but there is a line where these hints stop being helpful and become a barrier. It's a difficult line and one that I hope to give guidance on, especially in the mobile space. From the WCAG discussion, I'll move into the bulk of the presentation with examples of patterns found in the wild that wouldn't even be thought of as an issue had you not known how the ND brain experiences stimulus. Pattern examples include updating status badges/labels, bouncing and moving alerts, YouTube's video information card, lazyload modals, chat boxes, Gmail's 'Smart Compose' feature, and many more app interactions. Micro-interactions have a lot of power to help users if done in a way that keeps the needs of people with attention-related and other cognitive disabilities in mind. Let's keep them around, but design them in a way that reduces barriers.

Practical Skills

  • The concepts of Neurodivergence and Spoon Theory, two things necessary in understanding the needs and experiences of people with Cognitive Disabilities.
  • The strengths and gaps in the WCAG criterion Pause, Stop, Hide and a strong example based foundation for the idea that compliance isn't enough.
  • A well rounded understanding of micro interactions and guidelines/recommendations to create patterns that don't cross the line from helpful to barrier for people with Cognitive Disabilities.