Last night, I swiped my iPhone awake during a commercial. I had no particular destination in mind; it was an absent-minded liminal shift between two of the many screens that constantly, quietly invite me to interact. Without being even cognizant of what I was doing, I tapped the beach-y neon hue of the new Instagram icon.
This kind of user behavior is the goal. For Instagram’s design team, I had just provided validation that something as simple as an icon can influence interaction and engagement. It’s one of the most recent and high-profile examples of a much larger sea change in mobile design. For such a tiny, seemingly inconsequential, and largely superficial piece of design, the stakes are surprisingly high: The longer it takes to recognize an icon—however small the lag—the less momentum the user has.
That brief pause between opening your phone and deciding what to do? It’s now the most important millisecond in interaction design. New research helps explain why—and offers clues to improving the user experience.