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The Power of Anticipatory Design

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By Katja Forbes

Automation and artificial intelligence is now part of our daily lives. We aren’t surprised anymore by the existence of a virtual personal assistant that can help us activate our devices by talking to it. Just as we become accustomed to this remarkable automation, the digital world takes one step further by creating technology that anticipates what we want to do.  Anticipatory technology is exciting new territory, and it’s what the business and private sector is moving toward. Forward thinking businesses are incorporating it in their projectory scope for the short to medium term.

After one of your typical busy days, imagine you decide to order a take-away dinner. The app for your preferred restaurant is on your phone, and with one click, your favourite (or last) order appears on the screen. Again, one more click and you have ordered it (your payment details are also saved in the app.) This process took very little effort and time on your (the user’s) part. Even if there was another restaurant that you like equally, or even prefer, you will choose the one that offers an easier and quicker process to place your order. The same goes for any other retail or professional service business too. This scenario is created by anticipatory design and it is the next user experience that is quickly becoming mainstream.

In a world that is becoming increasingly difficult, stressful and busy, businesses that anticipate our needs are so much more valuable. We don’t have a lot of time to spend giving the same simple information again and again, and we are quick to lose attention when we have to jump hoops to make a simple purchase. The easier and quicker the purchase process, the more a business will sell.   Complicated or time-consuming procedures will chase your customers away – no matter whether or not the end product is better or worse in comparison. Interestingly, not so long ago drawn-out processes and filling in lots of paperwork was common to purchase a car or another type of large item. It made the customer feel important. Now, though, companies use simple and time-saving procedures as selling points!

There are already so many examples of anticipatory design in action. This type of design is about devices providing details or content that you need at exactly the moment you need it.   For example, the address of somewhere you need to go. Not only does it provide the information, it also gives it to you before you ask for it!  In other words, the software that you are engaging with expects that you will ask this question and therefore provides the address before you do.  Another example that will soon become mainstream is activated when you have just finished shopping and forgot where you parked. Now imagine your Smartphone provides that information for you, together with directions. Spotify Discover Weekly is another great example of anticipatory design. They use everything they know about your music listening habits to create a customised playlist of suggestions every week just for you.

Anticipatory design gives us back our most valuable commodity: time. Even though typing in your surname or address may not take a long time, it is always so much more preferable if you don’t need to. When we are provided with the right information at exactly the right moment, we feel in harmony with the world! And the purchase we are about to make feels meant to be. Companies know this, and want to create all the right conditions for you to hand over your money.  Customers feel special when businesses anticipate their needs and preferences, not only their name.

How is it that businesses have the ability to predict our behaviour?   Very simply because of all the data they have available to them.  Machine learning empowers the process and businesses have the ability to discover what customers do after A, B or C, and they can ensure customers feel special and valued. Use the data you collect about your customers to streamline the next interaction further. Remove the friction but be sure to leave the sense of control to you don’t stray into the “creepy-zone”

Anticipatory design is about eliminating unnecessary choices so customers can focus on enjoying the experience. It works because it meets our current needs and expectations perfectly. Clearly, this is the way of the future for the business and consumer landscape.


Katja Forbes is the International Director on the Interaction Design Association Board, and Australian pioneer in the experience design industry.

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