Design experiences that are one step ahead
You receive a text message from a friend who is planning to visit, asking you for your home address. You read the message, and just when you are ready to type your response, the messaging app on your phone pops up a suggestion with your address. All you have to do is to tap and send that message saving you the trouble of typing the entire address.
Jim walks into a coffee shop and the cashier’s software pops up his name and his usual order. The cashier greets him by his name and says “The usual cappuccino for you today, Jim?” Jim smiles and says — “Yes, please”.
You go holiday shopping and after many hours of busy and frantic shopping, you just want to get home. You reach the parking lot, but guess what, you forgot where you parked your car! Your smartwatch buzzes, you glance at it and magic happens — “Your car is parked on Level 1”, it says, “Do you need directions?” “YES!” You say relieved.
What is unique about these experiences is that they are triggered just at the right moment with exactly the information you need at the time. They are Anticipatory.
Recent advancements in machine learning and cloud computing, along with shrinking device sizes have changed the user experience landscape significantly. We are collecting huge amounts of user data and with help from sophisticated machine learning algorithms, we are able to anticipate users’ needs and predict their behavior. This changing landscape requires a shift in design approach — a shift from “asking users for inputs and presenting them with choices” to “making these choices for them”.
Anticipatory design creates delightful user experiences by understanding user needs and eliminating needless choices.
In his article, Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro introduces Anticipatory Design as “Design That’s One Step Ahead of You”.
What makes anticipatory design experiences delightful? What is happening in our brains when we encounter them? How can we maximize delight? How can we unpack these experiences so we can weave these into our designs?
The answers lie in some of the most common behavioral and psychological concepts.
1. The principle of least effort
The principle was discovered by the French philosopher Guillaume Ferrero, who published it for the first time in an article in 1894. It is the theory that the key principle in any human action is spending the least amount of effort to accomplish a task.
We simplify speech in so many ways, like ‘math’ for ‘mathematics’ and ‘plane’ for ‘airplane’. ‘Gonna’ is used instead of “going” because it has just two fewer phonemes to articulate. We prefer experiences which reduce effort even by the slightest. So, when you don’t have to type in your address, however small of an effort that might be, you love it.
I should also mention the familiar concept of Cognitive Load here. Anticipatory design at its core reduces cognitive load.
2. The feeling of being understood
Imagine you are driving in an unfamiliar part of the town and want directions to a grocery store. There might be one that is closest but not the one you would prefer to shop at. Wouldn’t you like Siri or Google Assistant to get you directions to the store you are more likely to shop at? Wouldn’t you want a software that understands you?
People want to be understood. A research by Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, found that people reported greater life satisfaction on days they felt more understood by others.
Anticipatory design has the power to transcend traditional relations between tools and users. It can create delightful moments like — “OMG, you read my mind”. If crafted well, these experiences can establish a strong sense of desirability and appreciation for your product by the person experiencing it.
3. The desire to feel important
John Dewey, one of the most profound philosophers, psychologist and educational reformer said:
“The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.”
You feel important when someone anticipates your needs, when someone remembers your name, your preferences, your birthday, your anniversary.
In the coffee shop example, with a little help from his application, the cashier was able to anticipate what Jim wanted. He made Jim feel important when he had his name and his choice of coffee right.
4. And finally, surprise amplifies experience
According to Tania Luna, the co-author of “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected.”-
“When we’re surprised, for better or for worse, our emotions intensify up to 400 percent. If we’re surprised with something positive, we’ll feel more intense feelings of happiness or joy than we normally would have had absent the surprise.”
When you first release an anticipatory design experience, you have a very good shot at surprising people (a pleasant one). If your designs hit the sweet spot, you instantly turn your average user to one that raves about your product.
Talk to first time Tesla owners and they will rave about how different it is compared to the cars they have known. How, as they get closer to their car, a door handle that is flush with the body of the car gently slides out to greet them. Or, when they get into the car, it is already ON (they don’t have to turn a key or push a button). Or, when they get closer to their garage, the car opens up the garage door for them in anticipation. It is no surprise that Tesla ranks the highest in Consumer Reports list of car brands, with 90% owners saying they will buy Tesla again.
So, here is the summary —
- Find ways to anticipate the next user interaction to make that experience as effortless, as easy as you can.
- Understand your users, their personality, the context they are in and tailor experiences based on the knowledge.
- Make them feel important by remembering their preferences and letting them know you care.
- And finally, use surprise to your advantage — make the most of the opportunity of first-time experience!
Embrace Anticipatory Design and push your designs one level up!