Designs, or anticipatory design, that think ahead for its users are becoming the new standard for the digital user experience. In this blog post, we explain the design philosophy behind this concept.

What is anticipatory design?

Our experience with digital products has improved significantly over the years. Technological advancements are one reason, and the emphasis on user experience is the other. 

Here are some prominent changes you may be familiar with:

  1. Steps have become easier
    Safari on mobile
    Safari on mobile
  2. Making errors is much harder
  3. Fewer decisions need to be made
    Nest learning thermostat
    Nest Learning Thermostat


The philosophy behind all these changes can be summarised as ‘anticipatory design’.  

“Anticipatory design is a design philosophy that takes into account the user needs of the next steps when designing the interaction of the current step, in order to improve efficiency, prevent errors and simplify choices for users.”

Empathy: the key to participatory design

Anticipatory design isn’t limited to an intelligent system in which user data is analyzed and automation or suggestions are provided. Instead, the anticipatory design focuses on how users think and behave in the process of achieving their goals. 

Take login-experience, for example: often when we go to a site we don’t sign in every day, we forget the password. Traditionally, a ‘reset password’-button is shown. This allows users to reset their password with a link sent to their email. 

However, ‘reset password’ (which is likely to be forgotten again) is not a relevant step when I want to login to a website, and forcing this step into the login-process creates a tedious and inefficient user experience. provides a different solution. When users forgot their password, they can choose the option to receive a login link in an email. With this link, users don’t have to reset their password, they can log in directly. 

Medium - anticipatory design

This solution makes login so much easier, and more importantly, it does not require advanced programming but only a careful consideration of what users really need. 

“The key to anticipatory design lies in empathy - the ability to think and feel like the people who you design for.”

Traditional UX research techniques can help you to gain empathy and increase your ability to predict users’ next logical step:

  • Task analysis: analyze the logical steps users take to complete a task, then design to serve and connect these steps. 
  • Usability testing: in usability testing, focus on steps that appear to be illogical or missing. 
  • Data analysis: gather product usage data, analyze the connection between steps,  and make the transition between the ones that are closely connected easier.

Anticipatory design in Open Social 

We have also implemented anticipatory design for Open Social to create an efficient and enjoyable user experience. 

Take Event ‘date and time’-setting, for example: when users select a start date for an event, the end date is automatically filled in with the same date. This does not only make selecting an end date easier but for one-day events, which are the most common, users don’t have to configure the end date anymore. 

Event date and time-setting in Open Social as anticipatory design
Event date and time-setting in Open Social; an example of as anticipatory design

Other anticipatory design related features we are working on include: 

  • Error prevention in content creation
  • More intelligent and personalized activity stream
  • Content suggestion based on user’s expertise and interests
  • Intelligent notification for onboarding
  • And many more….

We use anticipatory design in this manner to refine all of the features for Open Social. Curious to see more? Request a free trial.

Further reading

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