What are micro-moments and sensory memory in UX design?

by | Apr 3, 2023 | User Experience

How to use user experience (UX) to “hit the spot” more often

“Indulge your senses.”

“Look and feel your best.”

“Tickle your tastebuds.”

Be honest: Did you just have a magical experience?

If so, great

If not, you’re not alone.

But there are no products to sell here – only ideas.

Cave dwellers, seafarers, settlers, inventors, advertisers, marketers, and all flea market vendors since the dawn of commerce have looked into market trends and what it takes to influence others’ decisions.

They may not have used words like “market”, “trends” or “sensory UX”, but they definitely did it.

And yet, when we talk about micro-moments and sensory memory in the context of modern UX strategies, the proverbial mushroom cloud tends to burst from the business owner’s head.


What is sensory memory in UX design?

Our five basic senses (taste, smell, hearing, sight or touch) are constantly indulging in sensory pool parties. Consider these customer journey scenarios:
  1. The smell of freshly-brewed coffee at the café
  2. The sight of the “yes dress”
  3. The sound of a rocking tune at the hair salon
  4. The soft touch of Egyptian cotton linen
  5. The refreshing taste of a cold one on a hot day
Sensory memory, or sensory UX, is the study, research, and creation of physical, virtual or experiential interactions that involve different senses. But, as you might expect, sensory UX goes beyond what we were taught in primary school.

There are at least four other senses related to sensory UX, including:
  1. Interoception: The conscious and subconscious analysis of how we feel, experience ourselves, and live. This is basically how your brain interprets signals transmitted from your body, when it comes to understanding an experience – and it is the most critical sense for UX teams to consider.
  2. Proprioception: Related to muscles, tendons, and joints, this sense gives your brain information about how you move, where you are, what you need to do next, and the strength and speed required.
  3. Nociception: This is your body’s sense of pain, with various physiological and behavioural responses being identified as discomfort or unpleasantness.
  4. Equilibrioception: Also known as the sense of balance, equilibrioception involves a set of sensory systems working together to prevent falling or losing balance. These systems include vision, the inner ear, and proprioception.
It may seem ridiculous to relate these senses to anything other than physical products, but it isn’t. You can nudge someone’s brain visually and cause an interoceptive reaction through deep psychology, behaviourism and cognitivism.


Now that your senses are stimulated, let’s move on…


What are micro-moments in UX design?

A micro-moment is when you reach for your smartphone or computer to explore, discover, research or buy something. It’s a short, highly intense moment that can make or break the user experience for you.

Ever abandoned a cart? Of course you have. The internet houses millions of sad, orphaned carts longing to belong. You’ve likely dumped a cart because you felt confused, frustrated, remorseful, or distracted during a micro-moment when the vendor couldn’t keep you engaged or meet your expectations.

Let’s say, for example, you have an online avocado store. Consumers can order boxes of 5, 10, or 15, pay online, and expect delivery within two days.

Brumilda loves avocados but doesn’t love retail stores selling them at prices that require sacrificing an organ. She hops on the Google train and finds your online store. Not only are your avos reasonably priced, but you also promise they’ll arrive ripe and stay fresh for over an hour.

She immediately adds 15 unicorn avos to her cart. At this stage, Brumilda’s mouth is watering, her palms are sweaty, and she can’t remember which debit card to use.

But this experience doesn’t last long, because your checkout process requires Brumilda to create an account before placing an order. She doesn’t mind doing this, but when it’s time to verify her email address, she doesn’t receive your email.

Brumilda has two choices: 1) contact you to ask for help or 2) abandon the cart, the avos, and all hope of finding the right avo vendor. Unfortunately, her lunch break is over and so are your chances of selling 15 avocados. She abandons ship. The End.


Using sensory memory to enhance micro-moments

We know that micro-moments are, well, micro. They happen on a whim and don’t last very long. Sensory memory is also short-term. Combine the two successfully, and you have a robust user experience strategy.

Suppose you decide to order takeout at the last minute but aren’t sure what you want to eat. You visit your dear friend Uber Eats to help you decide.

**senses activated**

First on the list is McDonald’s. An image of a Big Mac comes up. Not today.

KFC is next. Fried chicken? Mmm, no.

Pizza Perfect. Stringy mozzarella, thin crust, wood oven residue? YES.

You proceed to checkout and everything works. Your mouth is watering from sensory memory, the app already has your bank card and address saved, and the restaurant accepts your order instantly.

You just have to wait for the delivery partner.

Micro-moment? Check. Sensory memory? Check. Eyes pinned to the Uber Eats driver map? Check.


How jobs-to-be-done interviews can help

Hold on, it’s about to get a bit (more) complicated. Sensory memories and micro-moments are all fine and dandy, but how are you supposed to smell (pun intended) how consumers’ senses will respond?

Thing is, regardless of micro-moments and sensory experiences, customers are always seeking to get a job done – whether it’s filling their stomachs or killing weeds on their lawns. And what’s the best way to determine how or why customers use features to get a job done? Interviews.

Jobs-to-be-done interviews help you understand a customer’s journey from the first thought to the consumption process. Once you’ve nailed the journey and the desired outcome, the micro-moments and sensory memory strategies become easy-peasy.

What’s more, jobs-to-be-done interviews give you those delicious qualitative data insights you need to innovate and market your products and services.

P.S. If you’d like to know more about jobs-to-be-done, read our article on this revolutionary theory and framework.


Tickle your marketing tastebuds

Don’t let big words like “interoception” stop you from giving your customers sensational UX. These concepts are tremendously valuable for ensuring that consumers get what they bargain for in the split second before they make a decision.

Get in touch with our pros, to turn big concepts into top micro-moments.

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