Siong Eng
UX Director
5 min read

While marketers rush to offer customers more choice, the reality is that people are becoming fatigued by constantly having to make so many decisions every day. The challenge is to minimise the burden of too many options, but still make consumers feel as if they are in control.


Is too much choice simply too much?

Today, you can have any type of food delivered to your door, choose from thousands of people to meet for a date, or book a flight to anywhere in the world, all while sitting on the couch with your phone.

It sounds so convenient. But more choice means you need more time decision-making time. As Barry Schwartz said in his book, The Paradox of Choice, “We are surrounded by modern, time-saving devices, but we never seem to have enough time.”

Anticipatory Design is here to learn your preferences.

In psychology, “cognitive load” is the term used to describe the amount of mental effort being used in the working memory at any given time. The premise behind Anticipatory Design is to reduce the cognitive load of users by making decisions on their behalf and foreseeing their needs.

It works by using technology to understand and empathise with a user’s behaviour. Perhaps the earliest implementation of Anticipatory Design was Microsoft Office’s Clippy. It would appear when it detected that the user had typed “Dear sir” because it understood that the user was starting to type a letter, and it would offer suggestions about writing letters.

A more liked and user-friendly version of Anticipatory Design is Netflix. With their multitude of content, it can be easy to get lost. So Netflix serves a different experience to a user each time they log in so they see new shows they might like, plus it easily offer’s the next episode of a series the viewer may be currently binging. The experience they get is crafted through a personalisation algorithm that monitors and analyses a user’s viewing behaviour.

Being able to tap into a user’s data to fully understand their behaviour can result in highly effective Anticipatory Design. Google is able to use the data across each product in its suite to create an experience that is seamless without the user having to do much at all. An example of this is the interaction between Gmail and Google Calendar. When a user buys a ticket for an event or books a holiday, Google will automatically add that to the users Calendar and send the user a reminder on the day. If the user has Google Now installed, it will go a step further and provide the user with directions to the event as well as suggest nearby bars and restaurants.

Feedback and transparency.

Sometimes, Anticipatory Design can cause more stress than convenience. Because we’re relying on a system to make decisions on our behalf, it’s likely that the system will get it wrong from time to time. An example of this is when a user is mildly interested in an event and registers their interest, but they change their mind. Unfortunately, Google has already added to their calendar so the user receives a notification on the day of the event, along with driving instructions and suggestions of nearby pubs. While these are small annoyances, they can certainly add up if Anticipatory Design is not implemented properly.

Good Anticipatory Design allows feedback from the user and the ability to easily reverse what has been done. This allows the system to learn and adjust which, in turn, results in a better experience. Building trust by giving the user control and transparency is important to avoid the feeling of a system taking over our lives.

The team at Equilibrium is keeping abreast of trends in Anticipatory Design and can chat to you about how it can be incorporated into your platforms to create a better user experience in this competitive, customer-centric market.