Customization Features Done Correctly for the Right Reasons

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Web technology allows organizations to move beyond one-size-fits-all interfaces and products — allowing users to define and design their own experiences. Users appreciate custom homepages and web-based design-it-yourself processes. However, our research shows that users often encounter severe usability issues when trying to accomplish customization activities.

This 93-page report offers 46 design guidelines based on our usability research. Discussions and 78 screenshot illustrations supplement our findings.

The report does not cover personalization — where a software system tries to predict individual users' needs automatically. It is solely about designs where users themselves employ features to manually customize or configure the UI or a product.

Topics covered

  • Overview
    • Business benefits of customization
    • Customization vs. personalization
    • Customization can be effective when implemented correctly
    • The importance of good defaults
  • Usability findings
    • Users have difficultly to adding content and tools on interface customization sites
    • People experience high levels of difficulty on product customization sites
    • Users have trouble adding content and moving page elements on custom homepages
    • People feel lost and out of control on sites featuring customization
  • Design guidelines for customizing the interface
    • Level of customization and number of choices
    • Designing for user intentions
    • Directing users to the customization path
    • Familiarizing users with new concepts
    • Educating people of advanced options
    • Illustrating usefulness of options and features
    • Browsing and search for content and tools
    • Providing feedback
    • Shared and private pages
  • Design guidelines for customizing products
    • Users' mental model, how users htink about product configuration
    • Workflow, structure, layout, sequence of choices
    • Initiating the process, process navigation
    • Communicating the scope of options
    • Save and apply data
    • How to avoid error messaging
    • In-line help and definitions
    • Comparing options and attributes
    • Review and approve features
  • Detailed methodology section that shows how you can conduct your own usability studies

Research Method

The information in this report is based on one-on-one usability studies.

Representative users tested customization features on 7 websites. Users also tested websites with no customization to allow us to compare the user experience among different approaches.


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Customization Features Done Correctly for the Right Reasons

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