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User experience design for configurable/customizable applications

Workshop for experienced practitioners

When designing software and complex web applications, we need to be mindful of the impact that client-specific configuration, customization, or individual personalization will have on the overall user experience. This workshop provides a forum for discussion and sharing of best practices based on experience in designing for such applications.

Workshop by Lisa Battle (Design for Context)
2:40pm to 6:00pm on Wednesday, June 22, 2011
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About the Workshop

It is often desirable and necessary for commercial software or software-as-a-service to accommodate a wide range of client needs and user types by increasing their flexibility. A customizable, extensible and dynamic architecture is considered a selling point.

•Configuration typically involves creating a framework where certain features can be turned on or off, and where a different setting can be selected that drives the behavior of the application. •Customization tends to be more of a user-specific or client-specific adaptation. •Personalization and saved settings are also increasingly common as a way to make generic software or web applications more tailored to the specific needs of individual users.

Designing applications like these may require changes to our typical methods, such as conducting analysis with a broader range of users to see the variations of customization that are in use already or are needed from the eventual product.

During the design process, we may need to decide whether to illustrate multiple different customization possibilities, or whether to document them, for example in a state table that identifies the situations in which certain items will be turned on or off, or displayed differently. The person or team responsible for user experience may need to come up with creative ways to envision and communicate the design.

Branding and graphic design can be a challenge for some applications that allow user or client customization. For example, the “white labeling” approach used by some software providers means that there must be a wide range of possible graphical treatments and color schemes available. This can pose challenges for visual feedback, icons and other graphical elements that are needed in a polished visual design.

In implementation, there are situations where the flexibility of a configurable or customizable application can lead to user experience challenges. For example, sometimes an application is configured by a third party or by a customer service representative who does not realize that the changes they make to the user interface may lead to problems.


Introduction (10 min)

Show and tell (75 min) Each participant will demonstrate and discuss their example(s) of design for configurable or customizable applications. The target will be 10 minutes per person, although the time can be increased or decreased as necessary based on the number of participants.


Discussion: Identify patterns and best practices for designing configurable or customizable applications in a way that supports positive user experience. (45 min)

Discussion: Identify processes, methods, or techniques that we should use when working on projects like this. If possible, participants will be divided into small groups to discuss specific topics such as variations on typical analysis methods, documentation styles used to convey rules for configuration, or usability testing of personalized applications. (45 min)