The Value of Anticipatory Design in the User Experience

What is anticipatory design in user experience? Learn all you need to know about anticipation UX design, along with some real-world examples.

Written by RamotionSep 2, 202211 min read

How often does it happen that a mobile application or a website acts as if it knows what you’re thinking, providing you with the options you need to accomplish a task? For example, when you’re placing an order for food from the same restaurant, by using a service like Uber Eats, your past order is right in front of you, prompting you to reorder with a single tap. The app is using your past searches and behaviors to make your task easier and save your time as well. Similarly, there are cases when you’re wondering what to watch on a weekend and the streaming service gives you the perfect recommendation. All this is achieved by the approach called anticipatory design.

Modern design solutions anticipate user behavior and present them with the content they need the most. Website and app design experts put a lot of value in anticipatory design, as it performs a big part of the users’ tasks in a seamless manner. With the help of appropriate design and engineering techniques, things seem to happen automatically, adding immense value to the overall experience of the target audience. Anticipation has several advantages for products and services, particularly in the digital environment where the attention span of the users is quite small.

Anticipatory Design in UX (Netaq)

It is important for designers to understand the value of anticipation, so they can meet the needs of users in a better way. In this article, we introduce the concept of anticipatory design in the field of UI/UX design, along with its benefits and basic elements. We also present some real-world examples to illustrate how successful designs are incorporating the principles of anticipatory design in their solutions.

Read along as we step into the future and anticipate the user needs.

Anticipatory design meaning

One of the key principles in the field of user experience design is to understand the target audience. It is important to have a good idea about the target audience groups, their major concerns, and their needs. This is where anticipatory design comes into play with the aim to simplify processes for the users when interacting with any product or service.

As the name indicates, anticipatory design is a technique where the end product is interactive in a way that it automatically adjusts according to the needs of the users. Almost all modern digital solutions are designed with some inherent anticipation. This information is gained with the help of user research and audience analysis. Additionally, anticipatory designs learn and grow along with the users. These designs learn from the habits and activities of users and then present them with the experience they desire.

Anticipatory Design Ensures Better Recommendations (Amber Roberts on Medium)

Anticipatory designs are highly dependent on sophisticated algorithms and machine learning techniques. In order to create successful anticipatory designs, it is important for engineering and design teams to work closely together. In this collaboration, designers bring their knowledge about the psychology of the target audience. Engineers, on the other hand, bring in their technical expertise. Additionally, constant feedback from the users helps in creating useful and usable designs. It is, therefore, critical to have a clear understanding of the end goals and the needs of the users at all stages, when working on an anticipatory design solution.

Benefits of anticipatory design

For a design to be successful, it must meet the needs of the target audience. A good design is not merely about aesthetic interfaces and interactive prototypes. Given the recent advancements in the discipline, UI/UX design has taken a step ahead, where it is critical to make future choices easy and seamless for the users. This can be achieved by analyzing the existing data and past experiences of the audience so that the behavior patterns can be anticipated.

Anticipatory design aims at meeting the needs of the audience before they even become recognizable. There are several benefits of such a technique in UX design. Some of the most important ones are discussed below.

Benefits of Anticipation in Design

Simplified user journey

One of the most important aspects of any product or service design is the user journey. Understanding and mapping the user journey is a demanding task but no user interface can claim to provide a better experience without this essential step. Anticipatory design simplifies the user journey, both from the perspective of designers as well as end users. The choice of interaction methods and the entire decision-making process is made straightforward by presenting the users with some open-ended choices. When the anticipation is correct, or even close to the expectations of users, they tend to enjoy the experience.

Lesser cognitive load

In today’s digital world, there is so much content to consume, leading to an increased cognitive load. When you log on to a website or open a mobile application, you want things to be simple and attractive at the same time. Giving control to the users is a good aspect, but too many choices require a lot of mental effort, leading to a bad experience. This is one problem that can be solved by anticipatory design. By simplifying processes and making the interfaces more adaptive, designers ensure that the users see the information that is more relevant to their goals. This ensures less effort on their part, helping them accomplish their tasks in less time.

Anticipatory Designs Result in Reduced Cognitive Load (uxstudio)

Useful and interactive interfaces

The quality of user interfaces, whether physical or digital, is critical to a better user experience. If the interface does not meet the needs of the users and does not provide them with the information they need, there is a high chance that the users will not be satisfied with their experience. The anticipatory design aims at improving the experience by creating simplified user interfaces that target the specific needs of the audience. By making sure that the users receive highly relevant information in a hierarchical or categorized manner, anticipatory designs help in making the most out of products and services.

Reduced time on task

An important quantitative factor for the success of any design is the time spent by users to perform a specific task. Typically, interaction models aim to achieve a lower time on task, which indicates the design is simple and familiar. This is another aspect that is dealt with using anticipatory design techniques. In such cases, the interface works with the audience, helping them achieve their goals quickly and efficiently. In other words, the interface automatically presents the users with choices based on the existing data and the users’ preferences, helping them perform better, without compromising the experience.

Improved customer satisfaction

User-centered design is all about improving customer satisfaction and creating designs that can ensure a quality experience. All the benefits of anticipatory design combine in this one aspect, where the ultimate goal of improving customer satisfaction can then be achieved. With reduced time on task, lesser cognitive load, and useful interfaces, it is entirely possible to achieve better satisfaction rates, thus covering all the bases of a good user experience.

Anticipatory design elements

Now that you know about the significance of anticipatory design, let us take a closer look at the essential elements of this technique. One of the most important factors in anticipatory design is the data gathered from real users, based on which future predictions and decisions can then be made. The data is processed using machine learning techniques, in the light of UX design principles. Throughout the process, one important element should always be considered, and that is the ethical aspect of design.

What follows is a brief description of these essential elements in anticipatory design.

Basic Elements of Anticipatory Design in UX

Data collection

Whenever it comes to predicting user behavior or providing them with useful recommendations, it is important to collect data. Data collection is a significant element of anticipatory design. This data comes from existing designs, behavioral patterns of users, and user feedback. The anticipatory design also relies heavily on user testing, both during the prototyping and testing phases of a design. This is where designers get a chance to better understand the needs of users. All this data gathered before and during the design process helps in creating useful anticipatory designs.

Machine learning

For an anticipatory design to be functional, it is important to seek help from machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques. The data gathered for the design of a successful product needs to be processed and analyzed to extract valuable information. This is where data mining and machine learning algorithms come into play. All modern designs seek help from sophisticated algorithms to some extent, thus automating their processes, presenting users with better choices, and meeting the needs of the target audience in a proactive manner.

Holistic user experience

The reliance on algorithms and the use of machine learning techniques do not mean that designers can move away from UX design principles. It must always be remembered that anticipatory design cannot be successful if it violates the fundamentals of user experience, such as simplicity, accessibility, familiarity, and consistency. Therefore, a holistic approach to user experience design should always be there when working with anticipatory designs. This means that all the essential features of design should be developed and presented in an interactive manner, so the audience does not feel overwhelmed or lost at any point. The focus on a simplified and effective user journey can help in creating better experiences.

Ethical considerations

Another important, and often overlooked, element of anticipatory design focuses on moral and ethical considerations. While gathering data and understanding user habits, designers should be careful about data security. Additionally, the choice of machine learning techniques and the information presented to the users should not mislead them in any way. In other words, the inherent biases of algorithms should be acknowledged, addressed, and rectified during the design process.

Anticipatory design examples

There are several examples from the real world where organizations have employed anticipatory design techniques to enrich the user experience. With the help of aesthetically pleasing elements and interactive design patterns, some of the leading organizations prioritize the needs of their target audience, giving them what they want before it becomes a serious concern.

Let us look at some of the best examples from different domains to understand the use cases of anticipatory design.

Examples of Anticipatory Designs (Aranca)

Recommended shows on Netflix

The recommendation system of Netflix is an excellent anticipatory design example. The data collected from the shows you watch, and the ones you even search for, is used to create a list of recommended shows that you may be interested in. This means that your previous preferences are used in a strategic manner to keep you connected to the streaming service. What is interesting about this design from Netflix is that the list of shows is presented right on the homepage, so it is very hard to miss.

Netflix Recommendations as Anticipatory Design (Alphr)

Multiple routes on Google Maps

When you look for directions on Google Maps, it is as if the mobile application understands pretty much all the needs. For example, you will get multiple routes to reach your destination. Additionally, the small icons and snippets of information indicate which route is cost-effective and which one is the most fuel efficient. This is all the information that the users do not ask for but Google Maps reads their minds and provides the necessary content in an attractive way.

Multiple Route Options and Additional Information on Google Maps

Suggested entries on iOS Calendar

iOS Calendar is another excellent example of anticipatory design. When a new event is created in the calendar, the application takes information from the previous user input and provides suggestions using the times, dates, and locations of the past events. This helps in creating a recurring event in the calendar with minimum effort. An important thing to note here is that the users still have complete control over every little detail. This is what makes the experience useful and the suggestions helpful at the same time.

Anticipated Future Events in iOS Calendar

Conclusion

Anticipatory design is the future of UI/UX design, holding an immense potential to revolutionize the discipline. Most mobile and web applications today employ the techniques of anticipatory design to meet the needs of their target audience in a better way. However, there are certain aspects that need attention to improve the process as well as the end products. When using machine learning techniques, the fundamental principles of design and ethics often get ignored. Therefore, it is important to understand the overall concept and significance of anticipatory design, so that the technique can be applied in a way that not only improves the products but also adds value to the lives of users.

One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of UI/UX design is that the learning never stops, and there is always something new for designers. Whether you’re a professional designer or a student of design, you will indeed benefit by learning about the principles of anticipatory design. The field of design is going to evolve and develop in the days to come. To make yourself marketable and to keep creating quality designs, knowledge about anticipatory design is a must-have.

In this article, we covered the basics of anticipatory design, with a specific focus on ethical concerns. Additionally, we presented examples from the real world to give you a better idea of how successful designs are being created using this technique. You can learn from these and various other examples and case studies to improve the quality of your future designs.