You start scrolling your Facebook newsfeed and the video begins to autoplay. At first you don’t think too much of it and continue browsing but then that cute puppy video has you pausing, and before long, unconsciously you’re flicking from post to post; watching one video after the other.
Or you receive a text message from a friend who is planning to visit, asking you for your home address. You read the message, and just when you are ready to type your response, the messaging app on your phone pops up a suggestion with your address. All you have to do is to tap and send that message saving you the trouble of typing the entire address.
What is unique about these experiences is that they are triggered just at the right moment. They are Anticipatory.
What is anticipatory design?
Anticipatory design has the power to transcend traditional relations between tools and users. It can create delightful moments like — “OMG, you read my mind”.
It’s about making the user experience better by fulfilling the user’s needs before they do anything.
In design, this means simplifying UX by being one step ahead of users and coming up with solutions for problems that users may be facing, but might not be yet aware of.
Would a user have wished for a “Save Password” option before it existed. No, he would only be aware of the annoyance of having to type their username and password every time they wanted to log in. So, a functionality that spares them from doing that came as a pleasant surprise.
And that is anticipatory design.
Anticipating user needs
In the case of online shopping, for example, anticipatory design means interacting with a system that knows you and can personalise your experience to the degree that it feels as if you are being guided by an invisible hand.
Let’s say someone is looking to purchase a new TV online. At the checkout, the site would automatically show “Pick Up in Store” as the default choice because it knows by observing the past behaviour of other users who bought this item that they would prefer to pick up their purchase at the nearest brick-and-mortar store.
Driven by data, the websites UI changes on the fly, eliminate any extraneous information, preselect default options for you, and only present the most relevant content in a timely, minimalist, and seemingly magical manner.
The process merely suggests solutions and aiding in decision making. It’s not really reducing the tax on a user’s willpower, but they are optimising efficiency.
The idea is simple — predict what you may want, or need, to know before you know you need or want it, and serve it up in an easy-to-read, card-based format.
It’s anticipating a user’s need for in-the-moment, contextual information.
Applying this to your craft
As we all know, people return to products and services that deliver what they want when they want it.
Anticipatory design’s aims to eliminate the friction and an increase in efficiency that would greatly improve user experiences, and in turn impact your bottom line.
It’s important to understand your users, their personality, the context they are in and tailor experiences based on the knowledge.
Data collection is paramount, but intelligent analysis is equally important. Therefore your business should mine existing data and look to leverage past choices to accurately predict future decisions.
You should fully engage in the user-centred design process, employing user research, and extensive user-testing. User research will tell you a lot – contextual observation perhaps or ethnographic studies – where you can observe what users are inclined to do from moment-to-moment in their flow. These user journeys should be mapped out step-by-step, and design the interaction accordingly.
When designing, it’s also important to simplify tasks the user is expected to tak. Find ways to anticipate the next user interaction to make that experience as effortless, as easy as you can. Look to add value to an interaction through automation. Make them feel important by remembering their preferences and letting them know you care.
Remember, the goal is not to help the user make a decision, but to create an ecosystem where a decision is never made – it happens automatically and without user input.
The ideal outcome of applying these methodologies is to create a fluid and seamless anticipatory experience that would please customers and generate loyalty by having things appear as if by magic.