Anticipatory Designs: Key Considerations to Balance the Equation

Author: Vidhi Malik | Categories: Analytics, Business Intelligence, Customer Experience, Design & Ux, Digital Strategy, Mobile

In my previous blog, I discussed Anticipatory Designs – what it means, how it can benefit users and businesses, how we can transform our design to anticipate users’ needs, and so on. This time I plan to take the Anticipatory Designs discussion further ahead. In this blog, I shall discuss the pitfalls and design considerations you ought to make while working on anticipatory designs.

Before we move forward, let’s take a step back to personalization. The term in itself isn’t any more a new concept. To cater to the digital customers brands are working on delivering personalized experiences, and many of them have managed to achieve it beautifully. Are you wondering why I am talking about personalization in place of anticipatory designs? Are you speculating if the two are related? Hang on; I shall soon explain how.

Amazon’s personalization efforts are neither new nor hidden. Since at least 2013, its product curation and algorithms for recommendation have made headlines. When was the last time you browsed this portal? Did you not experience the “we know you so well” kind of feeling while there? Well, it’s not just you who are amazed by this but practically everyone who’s visited the website. From product suggestions to popular searches in the specific category, Amazon builds the interest of the user by promptly displaying related items. You just can’t resist the urge to scroll to these sections and visit page after page.

slippy UX

The image above displays how my page looks like while I am browsing, with the recommendations thrown in.

Amazon knows me well from my online shopping behavior; this shows on my homepage. And, as I continue scrolling down further, the recommendations get even more relevant and specific to my interest. Suddenly, there comes a banner that reads “Jack Reacher”, “Hanna” hinting to the playlist that’s streaming on Amazon Prime. Based on my past behavior of browsing through thriller novels, Amazon simply threw up these suggestions. Trust me; this prompted me to purchase an Amazon Prime membership instantly! And, I am not the only one to have become a fan of this personalized experience; friends and colleagues have openly admitted to their fondness for this ‘unique experience’.

Personalization and anticipatory designs: Similar yet different

Coming back to our speculation on how the two are related, here’s how they are similar, yet stand apart. Brands use both the methods to enhance their user experience and customer engagement; however, content personalization can be understood as a subset of anticipatory designs.

Personalization + Slippy UX = Anticipatory Design

Personalization comes from knowing your customers – their interest points – from the data available to you: browsing history, past orders, current location, date, and trends followed by similar users.

Slippy UX is a concept coined by Jake Zukowski for designing the digital interface in automobiles. This concept was built to simplify and automate the user interface (UI) of automobiles so that users could focus on their driving only. A necessity for car UIs, Slippy UX aids web designing too.

When we put together the concepts of personalization and Slippy UX, it delivers a design minus the inessential, unwanted, and distracting elements. It uses appropriate data to give users a UX they appreciate.

Personalization is about providing users with information as per their interest (based on their past behavior). Anticipatory designs, on the other hand, is about building algorithms that collect, filter, and smartly apply learnings to products that are capable of taking decisions on behalf of users.

Let’s have some more clarity on the difference between personalization and anticipatory design. For this, I shall return to the Amazon example.

anticipatory designs

The image above depicts the difference between personalization and AD

So, while personalization will enable Amazon to display suggestions basis your past behavior, anticipatory design will inform it beforehand about your preferred delivery date and time, size, color, address, etc., from your previous orders. This will help reduce the decision-making task on your part as personalization will recommend items based on your interest – thus intentionally or unintentionally building an anticipatory design. AD is created on the basis of intelligent personalization.

Personalization is limited to a list of recommendations that varies from user to user, leaving the final decision to the user. AD has walked another mile to create a better user experience by deciding on the user’s behalf

Our future with the anticipatory design pattern

Anticipatory design is a design pattern formed of 3 elements – machine learning, IOT, and user experience design. It can play a great role in simplifying our routine tasks if implemented accurately. Imagine the scenario below:

It is 7 o’clock and your alarm goes off! Your mobile lights up and shows you the schedule for the day and any notification you’ve missed. Meanwhile, your coffee machine triggers and the music system plays your morning playlist.

While you are enjoying your breakfast, Google Maps sets the alarm for 45 minutes later, so you reach your office on time. 20 minutes later, Uber notifies you that your cab will be arriving in the next 7 minutes. Just when you close the door behind you when you step out, your mobile turns off the power of your appliances.

When you are traveling to your workplace, your mobile orders your usual coffee at your favorite coffee shop (in your office’s vicinity). The driver drops you at the coffee shop where the freshly brewed coffee is ready for you.

You enter your workplace and prepare yourself for the meeting just when your Google Drive sorts and organizes the content. As your meeting starts, your mobile automatically sets the do-not-disturb mode ‘on’ and notifies you of the emails and messages after the meeting is over.

Getting stuck in the experience bubble

The above-sketched scenario appears fascinating. A lot of your work-load is now taken care of as you don’t have to decide the regular stuff. You could focus essentially on the meeting, leaving the rest to technology to decide for you. However, there can be a flipside to this. Going for same things daily can become monotonous. What if you didn’t want to have the same coffee every day or just wanted lemonade today? This can get you stuck in the experience bubble and crush your enthusiasm for design that anticipates your wants. Clearly, coffee was not what you needed, but you had to take it just because your mobile decided it for you!

Pitfalls and design considerations for anticipatory designs

The above situation of getting stuck in the experience bubble can be avoided by applying a little caution. Follow certain design considerations to fill the gaps in the AD experience.
  1. Designing against the experience bubble: Rather than consuming a user with the experience bubble, create a window to opt-out of pre-made decisions. This can allow users to choose new options, in case they aren’t comfortable with the old ones.

  2. Focusing on human intelligence: Don’t give power to the machines by making the humans powerless – create anticipatory designs that are inclined towards extended intelligence rather than artificial intelligence. The human brain is programmed to see things differently and to use technology as an extension; AD should be built around the line that separates humans and machines in the daily activities.

  3. Refrain from binding information: If users are presented with limited information, they will come across the same content repeatedly. This can impede the discovery of something new. Repeated sighting of the same or similar things can prompt users to lose interest in the subject.

  4. Create a trustworthy user interface: In order to provide better user experiences, ADs require to access cookies, personal information, location, etc., which may concern users. Dealing with the users’ privacy is the biggest ethical concern for brands. Therefore, utmost importance should be given to data security. AD should use light patterns to keep things transparent, and also user data should be protected and not used in an invasive manner.

  5. To wrap this up…

    There’s a thin line between deciding on users’ behalf to simplify their lives and annoying them with restricted, repeated choices. So, while making use of the concept of anticipatory design, aim to enrich the user experience by offering choices that are relevant, yet leave scope for the user to decide herself if she found your decision relevant. Not only will this be empowering for her, but it will also actually anticipate her needs the right way and help her pick products and services that are relevant and worthy. The trick is to keep the interfaces simple and aim to create great user experiences!