How to anticipate what your customer wants

Johan Verhaegen

UX Strategist


That’s the Japanese word for ‘superior hospitality and customer service’. Off all the memories people bring back from this extraordinary country, omotenashi is one of the most cherished and appreciated.

Omotenashi indicates a service that is so invisible and seamless you don’t even notice it. Like your hotel slippers waiting at your bedside, because the first thing you typically do on arrival is kicking out your shoes to liberate your aching feet. Or the bottle of fresh, cold water to quench your thirst from the long trip - or champagne, depending on how much you paid for the room.

In the West we’re not familiar with this concept of omotenashi (we don’t even have a translation for it), but still: we like it! Unfortunately, we rarely experience it. On websites, apps and household appliances we have to do everything ourselves, wading through a myriad of choices. Car infotainment systems, high-end cooking apparel, banking apps, tax contribution websites, … they’re often a burden and seldom a delight.


Anticipation is the way to go

But recently I’ve noticed a new trend in the design of digital products and services. UX folks already have a name for it: ‘anticipatory design’. Although it is not exactly the same as omotenashi, it has the potential to inject a bit of that famous Japanese superior customer service into the digital things we use every day.

One of the pillars of anticipatory design is reducing the abundance of choices. People like some choice, but they don’t like a flooding of choices. But most companies in a harsh competitive market strive to make a difference with more choices, which means more functions. And they predictably end up with an overcomplicated user experience mess. People hate that.


What people do love

What people do love is ‘smart’ technology that eliminates choice diarrhea and helps them to get things done, even before they thought about doing it. A lot of interesting products and experiments already have this anticipatory design built into their core:

  • Nest learns families’ way of life by registering everyday activities so that the heating and cooling of their house becomes optimized based on the inhabitants’ living patterns. That’s a lot more convenient than the tedious process of programming on/off schedules for weekdays, weekends and holidays.
  • Digital design agency Huge recently opened an experimental coffee shop that offers a personalized service to customers based on proximity and recurring activities. Instead of going to your favorite coffee bar and order your fix, you are offered a personalized coffee experience on your mobile (or wristband, or satnav,…) at the exact moment you intended to go to the place.
  • Recently we posted an Amazon ‘Extreme Service Design’ cartoon video on our News page. It’s fictional of course, but it illustrates the point really well.

And many others are following suit, surfing the disruptive waves of the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.


We’re just getting started

At Human Interface Group our focus of the past 20 years has been on making products easy to use and attractive to behold. We’ll continue doing this with a razor-sharp focus on business goals, user needs and excellent UX design work.

But from now on we will step up our game and try to inject a bit of omotenashi in everything we do, so that you and your customers will be delighted by an even greater user experience than before.


Do you know we can do this also for you? Get in touch and let’s make your product an example of UX superiority!


Johan Verhaegen
UX Strategist


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