The Power and Risks of Anticipatory Design –

Choice is overrated. Soon, decisions will be made by our devices.

It’s 07:00 am, your alarm goes off.

Your mobile screen lightens up, shows your schedule and news you’ve missed while you were asleep. Meanwhile, your mobile triggers your coffee machine, turns on the radiator and sets your TV to the correct channel.

While eating breakfast, Google Maps sets up an alarm to leave in 30 minutes in order to arrive in time for your next meeting. 20 minutes later, Uber notifies you that a car is on its way and arrives in 5 minutes.

The Uber arrives, you enter the car and enjoy a comfortable ride to work. While driving, and without interacting with your phone, coffee is ordered at your favourite coffee shop next to your office.

The driver drops you off at the coffee shop where your fresh coffee awaits.

With a freshly made coffee in your hand, you enter your office to prepare the next meeting. Apple’s Finder already gathered relevant conversations and documents to check before the meeting. When your meeting finally starts, your phone turned itself to a ‘do not disturb’ mode and flags important incoming emails for after the meeting.

This is what Anticipatory Design is all about: being one step ahead of you. The events above describe a scenario where Anticipatory Design is integrated into multiple channels and devices.

What is Anticipatory Design?

Anticipatory design is the next big leap in both Experience- as Interaction Design introduced by Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro. “You can see it as design that’s one step ahead of you,” he said.

Bottom line: anticipation + design
Design that anticipates, based on your behavior. Your behavior is measured using machine learning algorithms.

It reduces the amount of choices we have to make by deciding in the name of the user. This sounds redundant but actually is very necessary.

Shapiro states in his article at Fastcodesign that you and I regularly suffer from decision fatigue -sometimes without being aware of it. This phenomenon is a consequence of the many decisions we make on daily basis.

Did you know that we make 35,000 decisions a day? This number feels huge, but in fact, we make around 226 decisions a day on just food alone!

“we make around 226 decisions a day on just food alone”

Effects of Decision Fatigue

The more decisions we make, the less rational they become.

Decision fatigue is a well-documented phenomenon with some interesting experiments. Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro gives an example from the NY times that shows the effects of Decision Fatigue in his explanation of Anticipatory Design.

In this article from the NY Times, the writer tells a story about three inmates who appeared before a parole board. The three prisoners had completed two-thirds of their sentences but were judged differently. The parole board granted freedom to only on of them.

The reason for this difference in judgment was due to the time at which a judgment was made.

The inmate judged early that day had 30% more chance to get parole compared to inmates who appeared later that day. The correlation between time and decision had to do with the amount of decisions the judge already made.

The number of daily choices we make has increased over the years due to new technologies. “Successful digital design has eliminated the middleman in most cases. As a consequence, we’ve become our own middleman” — Shapiro said. Beautifully designed experiences have distracted us on what really matters: reducing complexity and simplify life.

This is why Anticipatory Design gains terrain and our experiences get more and more automated. This to reduce the amount of daily choices and to make our lives easier.

Risks of Anticipatory Design

Question is, does easier also means better?

Not necessarily, because if everything we do and decide is based on algorithms, how can we ever discover new things?

Before writing this article, I visited multiple book stores to get some inspiration around this topic. While browsing through books I realized how important uncertainty is in a discovery phase. It makes us alert and receptive for new things.

The idea behind Anticipatory Design focuses on prediction and eliminates chance. It automates our journey. The more automation we accept, the less human we become. We’re risking to end up in one big filter bubble. Meaning; we get isolated in our own cultural or ideological bubbles without a chance of getting out.

The idea behind Anticipatory Design focuses on prediction and eliminates chance. It automates our journey.

This would be a disaster because wonder and curiosity play an important part in our daily discovery. Its what leads us to new territories and insights.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Edison were all great scientists and inventors, but they were most of all wonderers.

They explored paths nobody would think of. People thought they were crazy because what they did was against the ‘status quo’. If they would have lived in an era of machine learning where most of their journey was predicted tailored to their needs, it is safe to say they wouldn’t have achieved as much as they did without.

Because curiosity enables us to continue our evolutionary path. It’s what makes us ask “why?”. All great inventions started with the question “why?”.

Curiosity enables us to continue our evolutionary path. It’s what makes us ask “why?”

Are You Willing To Give Up Your Privacy?

Are you? Because without full transparency it’s almost impossible to create immersive and participatory experiences. In order to make Anticipatory Design happen, we need to rethink our privacy ecosystem. The ‘cookie-model’ is in my view outdated and not future-proof.

Instead of cookies we can maybe think of a privacy system based on time. No cookies, nothing will be saved. You only give away a select part of your privacy for a predefined timespan.

A solution with respect to the current ‘cookies’ can be a friendly feedback mechanism that pops up at the start of a service. However, this will result in a less seamless experience.

These are just some thoughts. The privacy debate is a hot topic and entails a lot of conceptual, technical & legal challenges. Bottom line is that we need to rethink the privacy ecosystem.

In order to make Anticipatory Design happen we need to rethink our privacy ecosystem

What’s Next?

Okay, okay. Enough said about all risks and ethical challenges of Anticipatory Design. The grounding principles of Anticipatory Design are here to stay.

Anticipatory Design is a promising development in the field of machine learning but much debate and research are desired in order to embed some humanity in an ever-changing and automated future.

Our sense of wonder, -discovery and curiosity can be affected if everything that we see, do and feel is based on algorithms.

Don’t get me wrong, I am excited about the dawn of Anticipatory Design but realize at the same time that more research is desired in order to successfully apply it to services and products.

I Need You!

I’m currently completing my Masters in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island and I’m devoting my thesis to Anticipatory Design. The coming months I will be experimenting and researching the application of Anticipatory Design.

Are you an expert or just some like me who’s really interested in this topic? It would be great to get in touch with you!

Here are some interesting reads and video’s about this topic:

  1. The Next Big Thing In Design? Less Choice? — by Aaron Shapiro
  2. Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? — by John Tierney
  3. What You Need To Know About Anticipatory Design — Laura Busche
  4. (Video) Anticipatory Design — by Aaron Shapiro

Author: Joël van Bodegraven

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