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We form expectations

Forming expectations is a useful exercise when we’re out in the world. A yellow, diamond-shaped road sign featuring a curvy line tells us to expect a winding road. A “Lot full” sign tells us to expect a hell of a time finding a parking space.

Online, expectations are set by labels, visual elements, text, and so on. A button labeled “Save now” sets the expectation that whatever change we just made will be saved by clicking the button. A group of radio buttons tells us that we can only choose one option from a group. But what happens when the elements on the page lie, causing us to set false expectations?

For example, we’ve all clicked a link on a web page only to find out that the page we’re trying to get to doesn’t exist. Our expectation may have been set by the link—it told us in no uncertain terms that something relevant would happen upon clicking it—but alas, our expectation was broken as soon as our finger left the mouse button.

Expectations are based on whatever the user sees on the screen. As in, the design promotes expectations—encourages the user to believe something. If the design lies, the user either makes a mistake or has his expectation broken. Neither of these results is a good thing.

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