You may or may not be aware of this, but when we are interacting with an application, we are entering a biosphere. People always talk about suites of applications as being an ecosystem, but even within the constraints of single app, we are still interacting with a smaller, but equally important, ecosystem.
About three years ago, I wrote a blog about page-behavior taxonomy or, as I generally refer to it now, behavior taxonomy. This taxonomy is really a mental model the user creates based on previous interactions they have had within your page, site or application. It’s really crucial to understand that as you present links, behaviors and interactions, you are training your user. When you break that interaction model, you are breaking rules the user expecting you to follow.
Consider the biosphere projects scientists construct for the purpose of experimentation. Everything in that tiny ecosystem must work together properly. If an element is introduced which changes the ecosystem, it could cause a breakdown of the entire experiment. These small changes are what happens when the biological equivalent of microinteractions are not considered.
The key to considering these mental models is to look at the application as a whole and start developing an expectation of what the user will experience throughout their time in your app or site. If you look at the app as a whole early on, then it becomes clear what each interaction should bring. Think about how people are going to move about. What kinds of input are they going to give. Why are they doing it and how would they expect it to work?
Of course you should expect change, but the if the initial behavior taxonomy is sound, new additions will only serve to enhance the experience. If, on the other hand, care is not taken to develop the rules to which your app should adhere, you will paint yourself into a corner. You will make decisions early on which will force your hand later on. If you choose to break from the model, you will also break your users trust If your app is something that is going to be foisted upon users, they will learn to deal with it and resent you. If your app is something users interact with by choice, they will leave.
In the end, we are all in this little biosphere together. Let’s live in peace and harmony. Consider the environment and care for it. Your users will thank you for it. Consider your app’s behavior taxonomy and make the web a better place.