Imagine a world where your fridge was always stocked and there was no need to think about grocery shopping, simply ‘liking’ an online recipe would get the ingredients delivered direct to your door.

What if you were only shown clothes that would fit and suit your body shape and skin tone? And what if, when you scheduled a client meeting in your calendar, the relevant train tickets were automatically booked for you without having to lift a finger.

Since the birth of the computer users have understood there is a basic set of rules, I need to use a mouse and keyboard or touchscreen to input data in order to get an output. However, things are changing. As companies continue to collect a wealth of data on users, from tracking online activity and preferences to physical whereabouts, this insight can, and will, be used to change our lifestyles.

What is Anticipatory Design?
We make tens of thousands of decisions every single day, but imagine if technology could simply remove the need to make some of those decisions. Netflix and Amazon already use technology that aims to help decision making by learning and suggesting relevant recommendations based on previous behaviour, however Anticipatory design is more than this.

Anticipatory design is about design that is one step ahead of you, based on knowledge of your goals and preferences. “It is when decisions are made for you and executed on your behalf. The goal is not to help the user make a decision, but create an eco-system where a decision is never made” states Aaron Shapiro, CEO of Huge. Shapiro first coined the term Anticipatory design back in 2015 after the search for the Monopoly board game on Amazon turned from a simple purchase to a mammoth task.

The smart decision making of Anticipatory design works by bring together big data, machine learning algorithms, the Internet of Things (from thermostats to coffee machines) and User Experience design.

So, how can Anticipatory design work in practice?
Joel Van Bodegraven at Hyper Island provides a great example of what Anticipatory design could look like for the average person…

It’s 07:00 am, your alarm goes off.

Your mobile screen lights up, shows your schedule and news you’ve missed while you were asleep. Meanwhile, your mobile triggers your coffee machine, turns on the radiator and sets your TV to the correct channel.

While eating breakfast, Google Maps sets up an alarm to leave in 30 minutes in order to arrive in time for your next meeting. 20 minutes later, Uber notifies you that a car is on its way and arrives in 5 minutes.

The Uber arrives, you enter the car and enjoy a comfortable ride to work. While in the car, and without interacting with your phone, coffee is ordered at your favourite coffee shop next to your office. The driver drops you off at the coffee shop where your fresh coffee awaits. With a freshly made coffee in your hand, you enter your office to prepare the next meeting.

Apple’s Finder already gathered relevant conversations and documents to check before the meeting. When your meeting finally starts, your phone turned itself to a ‘do not disturb’ mode and flags important incoming emails for after the meeting.

Whilst we might not yet be seeing this seamless anticipatory experience, there is definitely a trend for technology to be moving this way.

Here are three examples that use anticipatory design…

Google Now
The Google Now app is based on anticipating its user’s needs. Google describes it as designed to deliver ‘What you need before you ask’. Using personalised ‘Cards’, it displays relevant information based on your location, diary and web searches.

Using this insight it can provide a local weather report, tell you how long it will take you to get home from work based on current traffic conditions, show you relevant news stories and recommend nearby restaurants. It can even show you stock prices, flight information and sports scores if that’s what you are interested in.

Amazon Dash Replacement Service
Forgot to re-order the pet food? You don’t even need to remember it with Amazon Dash. A connected automatic pet food dispenser with built-in sensors can measure the amount of remaining food in the container, and when supplies reach a certain level, it would instantly re-order some more without any manual intervention required.

Digit
Digit is a US-based online app designed to target those people who are not very good at saving money. The app reviews the users spending habits and lifestyle, and then works out how much money to set aside into a separate savings account. The aim is to help users build up a savings pot that might be used towards an emergency fund or a holiday. It reassures users that they have access to their money at all times and are so confident in their calculations they guarantee that you won’t go in to your overdraft. These three examples help to highlight both the opportunities and concerns that could come from Anticipatory design.

So, what are the benefits of Anticipatory design?
• Reduced decision making
Making decisions is a mental strain for users. Cognitive load relates to the amount of information that working memory can hold at one time. Although consumers think they want choice, too much choice results in decision fatigue and cognitive overload. When this happens the outcome leads to poor decisions being made or no decision being made at all.

• Simplified user interfaces
When the smart technology removes the need for so many choices, it means that interfaces can be more streamlined, less distracting and provide a more intuitive online experience.

• Save users time
If the technology is doing the thinking on behalf of the user, it means users can avoid doing mundane tasks and let their connected devices manage them on their behalf.

The Drawbacks of anticipatory design
Whilst the advantages of anticipatory design sound appealing, it is not without its drawbacks.

• Privacy concerns
The model of anticipatory design relies on using different sources of data held on a user. This access of extensive data might be an issue for many users with regards to privacy. 

• Loss of control
As humans we’re so used to being in control when using technology, and the concept of anticipatory design, by its very definition, removes this user control to anticipate (or assume) what the user wants or needs before they request it. Are users ready to relinquish control?

• Getting it wrong
The entire premise of anticipatory design is based on habit and previous behaviour, but just because a user did something in the past doesn’t automatically mean that’s how they want to do it in future. By hiding new and different things it will limit a user’s discovery of new experiences.

The future of Anticipatory design
With the exponential growth of digital solutions designed to make our lives easier, it is more a case of when, rather than if, Anticipatory design will become a natural part of our lifestyle and help to, as Shapiro puts it,‘[let] you focus on what’s important to you in work and life’.

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One of the best ways to keep one step ahead of your users is to have a deep understanding of them through user experience research. If you would like to find out more about your users and their goals to effective create user journeys that drive results – we can help! Contact us at DotLabel to discuss about your web project.