Design for unanticipated user behaviours – UX Collective

Human heterogeneity, device heterogeneity, diversity is the future of design. If we think through this from the onset, we can end up with something that is more flexible and scalable.

That was so kind of you GMail, I actually forgot…

One key thing I have learned the hard way in the field of user experience is having to design not only for when users do something, but also for when they do not. Usually, designers make a lot of assumptions about users’ comfort level with technology, making some design decisions turn out sour when the product hits the hands of real users.

According to a survey by,

92% of respondents checked social media on the phone in the past month, 31% stayed in the bathroom longer than necessary to finish activity on their phone

But do we take account of these scenarios during the design of our digital products? Not likely, I bet that my product manager won’t approve running a usability test in the toilet.

Even further, we design interfaces that cannot metamorphose to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. Human needs and concerns change over time, so why do we design only responsive interfaces but not responsive experiences? Why do I read my LinkedIn messages on the desktop, and yet they still show up as unread on the mobile site, and on the mobile app?

According to Eva Willis,

The future of UX is the user who begins a task on one device, continues through many more interfaces across many platforms and many more devices and completes their task with little recognition of, or interest in the complexity involved. To stay relevant in the development of digital products, we need think at a higher level than screens or sites or devices.

Before sharing some few examples of how we can anticipate for unexpected user behaviours with our digital products, it makes sense to consider general cases of how user experiences could be broken. I love the breakdown in the article Measuring Error in the User Experience which covers 4 broad causes of human errors:


These occur when users intend to perform one action, but end up doing another. For example, typing an “i” instead of an “o” counts as a slip. You can’t eliminate all those “fat finger” errors or typos but seeing a lot of slips can be a good indication to reduce required fields or data entry where possible.


These occur when a user develops a mental model (how he thinks he can achieve a goal) which is different from the product’s implementation model (appropriate way to achieve the goal). When we see users entering the wrong format in a field it’s usually a good indication that some field-hint, an auto format or some code that gracefully strips non-numeric characters might reduce these mistakes.

User Interface Problems:

Errors caused by the interface are the ones we’re most interested in as we can usually do something about these. If users continue to click on a heading that’s not clickable (mistake) or look for a product in the wrong part of the navigation then there’s probably something about the design that we can improve.

Scenario Errors:

No matter how sophisticated and realistic our usability tests are, there is some degree of artificiality to them.

Author: Akindunjoye Oluwatobi

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