Implementing Anticipatory Design Techniques in Your Current Design Base

Implementing Anticipatory Design Techniques in Your Current Design Base

Author: Vidhi Malik | Categories: Design & Ux, Customer Experience, Customer Engagement, Digital Strategy, Personalization, Website Design & User Experience

My wish to purchase a laptop led me to the discovery that having too many options to choose from may not always a blessing!

Yes, options that do not understand your need or expectation can blur your ability to decide and pick. Rather, the experience can be better if you had designs that understood your requirements and suggested appropriate solutions.

Is this far from reality? Is there technology that can predict and recommend on its own?

My quest to find the ideal laptop ended after 15 days of exhaustive search – towards the end of which I was left wishing for someone who could have executed the search on my behalf! It would have been great if ‘someone’ could gather all the information, suggest the processor, RAM space, brand, operating system details, amongst others. To get someone else to understand and suggest appropriate choices on my behalf, I needed a design approach that could anticipate my needs. Rather than becoming a victim of choices, I wished for an upper hand in the entire ‘search and purchase’ exercise.

“The more things we decide over the course of a day, the lesser ability we have to make effective decisions”

To simplify the buying process of users, designers are coming up with a myriad of designs using technology that understand users’ needs. They are coming up with interface designs that do not complicate a user’s task but those that eliminate needless choices, automate repetitive tasks, minimize decisions, and thus simplify life.

Understanding anticipatory designs

In 2015, Aaron Shapiro from Huge coined the concept ‘Anticipatory Designs’. He said that “The next big breakthrough in design and technology will be the creation of products, services, and experiences that eliminate the needless choices from our lives and make ones on our behalf, freeing us up for the ones we really care about”.

Theoretically, anticipatory designs (AD) can anticipate users’ needs before they (users) themselves identify. Anticipatory design is a technique where the onus is on designers to simplify the decision-making course for users by deciding on their behalf. It is a design pattern that learns, predicts, and anticipates users’ actions. In certain respects, AD works like an artificial intelligence system, which is aware of your past data such as social connections, upcoming meetings, weather in your city, traffic in your locality, and more. It uses all this information to recommend you choices – before you ask for them.

Anticipatory Design
The image above sums up AD as the point where IoT, UX design, and machine learning meet.

The goal of such a kind of design is not to give users what they presently want but to also provide them options for what they may want in the future – basis their past preferences, budget, and so on. The idea is to offer a seamless, flawless experience to users where options are ready to be picked in a manner which users will acknowledge.

Advantages of anticipatory designs

In the technology space, understanding user requirement tops the list of prerequisites, before a service or product is built. Knowing users’ onsite behavior gives you an insight on their needs, which can help you to anticipate their requirements and appropriately serve them. No one today wants to spend time navigating through a website to find a product of choice – everybody wishes to swiftly complete the task (refer to my exhaustive search journey) and move on.

Let’s consider the instance of hiring a cab to your workplace. You must have used Uber or a similar cab service, at least for once. How would you describe the booking experience? Did you notice how smartly they captured your next decision and suggested you an appropriate solution? Well, for the starters, they eliminated 3 steps that would have taken for you to book a cab. First, the service assumed that you needed the cab right at the time of booking and at your current location; they eliminated the step of filling up your pickup location. Second, they streamlined the payment method on the basis of previous payments – ensuring you enjoy a hassle-free ride. Third, they offered you to easily return to your original destination by providing a return button.

The cab service anticipated your needs and minimized the decision-making process. Do you know that coming up with such a design actually worked for Uber? It increased their user base by 20%!

Barry Schwartz, psychologist, wrote a manifesto declaring “…the dissatisfaction users feel when they have too many choices...” It is this that has driven us to a new design era – the era of anticipatory designs.

As is evident, AD comes with a host of benefits that include the below:

Reduces the time to make decisions

Decision making can be a tedious process. Although customers prefer choices to pick from, they also end up suffering from decision fatigue and cognitive overload. This leads to either no decision or wrong decision. Designs that eliminate this stress will undoubtedly capture users’ interest better and thus result in an increase in your consumer base.

Saves users’ time

If a product or service is designed to ‘think’ and ‘decide’ on behalf of users, it can allow users to skip unnecessary tasks and devote their time to other productive work.

Simple user interface

Anticipatory designs provide a streamlined interface that reduces distraction and shortens the user journey. This enhances efficiency and adds ‘magic’ to the design.

Give more output from less input

Referring again to the Uber experience, how would it have been if you had to provide inputs for all the steps that were eliminated? Definitely, it wouldn’t have been as unbroken and consistent as it is now. That’s the beauty of anticipatory designs – they don’t let users work too much to derive value. They focus on the basics and very little user information is required.

Implementing anticipatory design

Several major brands have revamped their products using AD techniques. These include Amazon, Spotify, TripAdvisor, Uber, Expedia, Google Now, Nest, Pandora, and Cook with M&S, amongst others. If you wish to implement anticipatory design, you’d require deep understanding of your users and the real problems they face. Here’s the stepwise description to implementing anticipatory design:
  1. Steer your brand towards anticipatory design

  2. Identify the services that your brand offers

  3. Enable your service digitally

  4. Automate your service

  5. Differentiate between the acceptable and unacceptable decision making tactics

Checklist for anticipatory design

Below is a handy checklist to keep you on track while you move towards anticipatory design techniques. The list is in the form of questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not your design could be streamlined for efficiency.

  • How can you simplify the task?

  • Would you be intimidating the user with an over-dose of content?

  • Can pre-filled data help you avoid overwhelming users with too many questions?

  • Can past actions and choices help make recommendations?

  • Can the use of templates help expedite the process?

  • Can a template help capture additional attributes that could be used as a value-add?

  • Is there a way to minimize errors at this point?

  • What will be the medium of instructions? Will it be text-based instructions, audio guides, or video?

Taming and training data

Anticipatory designs undoubtedly are data-driven designs, which require user’s data and information. In order to achieve convenience, data must be collected, analyzed, and presented in the form of pre-determined selections. While collecting user data – IP address, geo location, browsing history, cookies, work profile, Gmail history, social media channels, previous activities, personal information, etc. – are a few metrics that should be considered.


Users today are technology-friendly; they seek a seamless, uncomplicated solution to their requirements. Overloading your product or service with features that do not make sense to the user is no longer looked at as a feasible option. Rather, the bend is towards simplicity and enhanced user experience – and, in this, you can’t afford to ignore anticipatory design. With the help of the above checklist and evaluation of your brand, spot the improvement opportunities in your design and work towards realizing the same. If you are building up your design from scratch, you have enough space to embed these principals from a broader view.

Keep the below idea close to you heart:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler - Albert Einstein