Design Minimally Viable Interactions

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar

The most elegant interaction is so minimal it is almost invisible.

I heard Derek Featherstone, web and mobile accessibility lead at Simply Accessible, give a very insightful presentation at An Event Apart in Washington, DC where he talked about a minimally viable interaction. This is an interesting way of thinking because it moves away from the focus on the product or service, to the use of the product or service.

Someone needs to do something. What are the minimum number of steps needed to allow them do it? What is the minimum amount of content for each step? If they need to fill out a form what is the minimum number of fields in that form?

I watched a practical presentation on creating forms by web standards advocate Aaron Gustafson at An Event Apart. I was chatting with him afterwards about the challenge people have in relation to knowing what is compulsory and what is optional when filling out forms. We both came to the same consensus: get rid of optional fields and reduce the overall number of fields to the absolute minimum. Why do you need optional fields? Because someone in your organization says, "that would be nice to collect."

There are always lots of voices within the organization saying we want this from the customer, we want to tell them that, we want them to do this and that. Who protects the customer from all this intrusive annoyance? Because most of the things that organizations want are not even necessary. Much of the stuff collected in forms (particularly the optional stuff) is either never used, or if it is used, is used to annoy the customer.

Learning Opportunities

We all know as design professionals that this is wrong, but we are dragged along by the needs of the organization, instead of the needs of the customer. We must start asking different questions. These questions must be rooted in the viewpoint of the customer. What is the maximum amount of value you can deliver to your customers in the minimum amount of time? What is the simplest possible way for the customer to get through this process? What’s in it for the customer?

Designers need tools and methods but too often design becomes obsessed by the tool and the method and the "made" thing, rather than what the thing is supposed to do. In the digital world the act of doing becomes inseparable from the thing that is used for the doing. In other words the interaction — the experience — becomes the thing, the product, the service.

Designers see a website but customers see themselves booking a flight. Designers see a smartphone but people see a means of finding that really nice Thai restaurant. The tool, the product, the channel, the content, the device can become a great intoxication for the designer.

We must resist these traps. Digital design is an interactive space in which the customer and the designer co-design together. Digital design is designing for use with use. The very use of the design by the customer must become part of the design process. Use is the chisel that sculpts the perfect form. The use and the design become one, and your greatest achievement will be in designing a beautiful, simple and quick interaction.

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.

About CMSWire

For nearly two decades CMSWire, produced by Simpler Media Group, has been the world's leading community of customer experience professionals.


Today the CMSWire community consists of over 5 million influential customer experience, digital experience and customer service leaders, the majority of whom are based in North America and employed by medium to large organizations. Our sister community, Reworked gathers the world's leading employee experience and digital workplace professionals.

Join the Community

Get the CMSWire Mobile App

Download App Store
Download google play