User Expectations

User Expectations can be defined as what users expect from a product, service or a digital asset. For example, user expectations for an app will differ compared to a website, and this is reflected in the design such as in the way the information is displayed, or whether the content can be accessed easily on mobile devices.

Users have requirements with regard to the use, user guidance, interaction, navigation, and information architecture - even if they are not aware of it. Dealing with user expectations is therefore a critical factor in web design, the development of software, apps and interfaces, as well as the establishment of an information and server client architecture. The term “user expectations” also links other terms such as compliance with expectations, usability, usability engineering, and in particular the user experience design.

General information

At the beginning of software development in the middle of the 20th century, developers were thinking about the characteristics a digital product should have in order to make it easy and frustration-free to use as possible. The most simple and effective use of software has always been the goal. Software should solve specific problems, increase work speed or perform exact calculations. Its use by the end user had to be taken into account, even if this was initially restricted to science and the military. Although the product was still at that time the focus of attention, the expectations concerning the software were usually sufficiently clear and determined by problems to be solved.

With the arrival of digital products in the field of consumers and the invention of terminals, the requirements changed and the user became the focus with regard to usability, which had previously been limited to the product. The point is that before user expectations can be met, developers and designers need to know what users are expecting. In some cases, specialized disciplines evolved from the subject of usability, which today deal with usability, user experience or simply good design. Tools such as requirements analysis, user experience design, and user experience management emerged from the initial usability considerations. With the development of mobile devices and other disruptive technologies, these expectations changed again and the focus on usability became more and more present.[1] User-centered design is an example of this development.

Types of user expectations

How users perceive the use of a website or app depends on three different levels of user expectations:[2]

  • Entrenched expectations: Entrenched expectations are mostly unconscious and result from using many websites or apps over a long period of time. Users are accustomed to specific interactions, navigation structures, and website goals from previous experiences. For example, if they click an “About Us” page, they expect to see applicable information on the company or person that authored the website, because they have internalized this through the use of many websites. These entrenched expectations are also related to the layout, design, and performance of websites, or at least to the basic characteristics of sites known to them.
  • Formative expectations: Formative expectations are expectations which result from the experience of users. Users are familiar with individual aspects of websites and they know what they can do with them. Blogs, social media integration, or comments among articles - users are aware of the purpose of these interaction elements and also expect other websites to have these elements available. Users develop an awareness of their needs and require websites to satisfy these requirements.
  • On-off expectations On-off expectations are always linked to a single website and to the time and place of use. The overall appearance with all interaction elements, layout, design, and wording has an effect on current expectations. Users know very well why they visited a website and what they would like to find there. Any breaks in this perception generate certain user reactions if their expectations are not fulfilled. They leave the website in this case.

Each website and other digital products should meet as many as possible of these expectations if they want to provide satisfactory information, solutions, or interactions. Conceptually, an interdisciplinary approach is therefore recommended. Be it the establishment of an IT infrastructure, the design, or interaction with the content, different expectations can be anticipated, so that the frustration tolerance of the users is not exhausted. The “principle of least astonishment” applies here, which assumes that the learning curve should not be too steep for users, depending on their background.[3]

Users, developers or IT specialists have different requirements for systems, because they sometimes have prior technical knowledge. However, what users know or believe to know about software is crucial with regard to the type of usage. This is also called mental models. Disruptive technologies often conflict with existing mental models, since new features and unusual interactions are introduced, which users first have to get familiar with. They simply expect websites to work similarly to other websites.[4]

Relevance to online marketing

The factors that influence user expectations are very diverse and assignable to different areas. Websites, apps, landing pages or microsites are both digital media and a means of communication at the same time. They have goals, purposes, and different solution strategies, they also have content and communicate in a certain way. All these aspects must be taken into account when user expectations are anticipated and modeled. First and foremost, users expect a consistent and coherent experience. For example, if a company offers a variety of digital products (website, app, social media), a consistent corporate design should be provided that sends a uniform message across different devices and channels.[5] It does not matter if it is prices, product descriptions or press releases – communication takes place via a digital medium and should not generate breaks in the expectations of its users. Expectation conformity and consistency therefore do not concern only the implementation of digital products, but also the product as a means of communication and touchpoint.[6]


  1. MOBILE UX AND USER EXPECTATIONS Retrieved on December 02, 2016
  2. User expectations online Retrieved on December 02, 2016
  3. Astonishment, Expectations And Reality In User Experience Retrieved on December 02, 2016
  4. Mental Models Retrieved on December 02, 2016
  5. How to design sites that match user expectations Retrieved on December 02, 2016
  6. Consistency, Conformity to User Expectations (ISO 9241) Retrieved on December 02, 2016

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