What is Anticipatory Design?

Lately there’s been more and more said about “Anticipatory design” in UX (user experience design). So what is it?

It starts by remembering a tenet of exceptional customer service:

“Anticipate what the customer needs next”

When a hotel employee offers to call me a taxi on checkout, they’ve anticipated my next move.

Here at Custom D we talk about anticipatory design in the digital world, a realm where this aspect of customer service is often lacking. Big time. How often have you clicked an unsubscribe link from your email only to arrive at a page that asks you to enter your email address? When anticipatory design is carefully applied, the result is positive and slightly magical for the user.

Booking an UBER is a very simple example. When I open the App, it’s pre-filled my starting location to be my current location based on the phone’s GPS. It didn’t ask me to enter my location, it anticipated and already entered that data which saves me time, hassle, and needless thought. Sure I can then change the pickup location (quite easily), but 90% of the time I won’t. UBER took that step for me based on a safe assumption and some clever use of data. This isn’t rocket science, just good design.

Anticipatory Design | Uber | Custom D

In the world of web and mobile apps, anticipatory design is still in its infancy but with the increase of Artificial Intelligence, we’re going to see more and more sophisticated anticipatory features integrated into app behaviour that users will come to expect. Apps that don’t live up to this expectation will start to feel clunky, manual and old.

Travel Booking Woes

With offices in Christchurch and Sydney, I’m routinely flying back and forth, which means I’m regularly booking flights and rental cars. This process includes checking flight availability against work and holiday calendars to make sure there’s no conflicts. It’s no big task in the scheme of things, but it’s a repetitive process that I never look forward to, always with a modicum of fear that I’ll miss something in many micro decisions I’m forced to make, and end up booking incorrect dates or times etc.

Anticipatory Design | Booking Flights | Custom D

Now any half-decent airline or rental car website will save my personal details for subsequent bookings, but I still find myself executing tedious and repetitive steps each time including:

Picking the same class of ticket,

  • Selecting a similar seat each time (if available)
  • Selecting the same meal preference
  • Selecting that I want my ticket SMS messaged to my phone
  • Picking the same type of car for the duration of my trip
  • And so on..

More clicks. Same seat as always: away from crying babies. #firstwordlproblems.

Could they make this process easier? by analysing my repeat behaviour and anticipating some of these decisions? Perhaps they could see if the if the seat I always select or one closely is available, then preselect that so I only need to go into this step if I want to change it.

Less Decisions = Lower Cognitive Load

Overs the years, I have actually heard some clients and designers mention things like “these users are pretty smart” as a means of justifying a complex interface or workflow for their users.

Regardless of IQ, everyone appreciates simplicity and effortless. The more decisions the user has tomake, the more likely they’ll abandon your interface.

“Just like computers, human brains have a limited amount of processing power. When theamount of information coming in exceeds our ability to handle it, our performance suffers. Wemay take longer to understand information, miss important details, or even get overwhelmed and abandon the task.” – Nielsen Norman Group

The fact is: It’s hard for us as designers and developers to make things truly simple and intuitive. And it’s all too easy to put the work back on the user because you know they’ll muddle through and still get there (eventually).

But if you want to create a great experience, you need to do the hard yards for your users. That might include pre-selecting item they’re mostly likely to choose, pre-filling information, or crunching data to present personalised information and options.

Anticipatory Design | Spotify Daily Mix | Custom D

Spotify automatically creates suggested playlists based on your listening history If you can do this, you lower friction and increase engagement without requiring the user to think. And that is gold in the age of short attention spans and information overload.

Take the Next Step

Given that the airline has data about my usual travel preferences, wouldn’t it be great if I could just give an app some rough indications around time, and it could hook in to my calendar and offer suggested flights based on cost, time, availability and no conflict with existing events in my calendar. That would feel a little bit magic.

But just anticipating my meal preference would be a good start. You don’t need AI to start. Ask “can we take the next step for the user?” and implement some small next steps, for a big effect on the user’s experience.

Try implementing some anticipatory features yourself, or chat to us about how to taketh next step for your users.

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