05.03.2018

A practical approach to personalisation in UX design

For companies wanting to get ahead in today's competitive marketplace, personalisation is the next standard to reach for. But how do you achieve it? For a start, you need to know who your users are and what is important to them.... here's how to do that.

Personalisation – the word on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For companies wanting to get ahead in today’s competitive marketplace, this is the next standard to reach for.

A practical approach to personalisation in UX design - MadBit Dublin

Rather than intuitive UX design being an appreciated bonus, now most users simply expect it. When their mouse cursor hovers over a link, they assume that additional information will be forthcoming, quick and seamless as an involuntary reflex. Whether what results is a pop-up dialogue box, a modest effect to confirm that it is indeed a link, or a generous preview of what is to come, something needs to happen. Personalisation takes this to the next level.

What is website personalisation?

Personalisation begins by getting personal. After all, where else could it possibly begin? Spotify may have developed amazing user intelligence surrounding an individual’s music taste to design their Discover Weekly playlist and Facebook may only show you the content that you really want to see (apart from those, ‘On This Day’ posts, no one wants to see that), but this is about your users and not theirs. Determining what is of value to the people who end up on your website is the only way to know how to design a user experience that responds to their needs.

Who are your users? Creative types are more likely to open a homepage and enjoy being bamboozled by quirky interfaces that play hide-and-seek with menus and scroll horizontally instead of vertically, but the busy office worker or time-constrained mother may not have the patience to toy with an idiosyncratic design and instead desire a different kind of experience.

To begin with, find out what is important to your users. You can do this in a number of ways:

Hard facts

Forms, forms lovely forms, filled with juicy data. By simply asking your users a series of well-chosen questions you can gain invaluable insights into what they want. Unfortunately, as much as we like forms, many users don’t enjoy filling them out quite as much. A bit of motivational theory, aka the basic carrot on a stick approach, can be useful here. When your user lands on your website or receives an email from you requesting they fill out a questionnaire, why not give them something in return. It can be anything; a whitepaper, a discount, entry into a competition or some company swag.

Website analytics

This is bread and butter for website owners wanting to gain insight into user behaviour. Analytics can answer questions such as what pages cause users to drop off the website, whether users move between different pages, how long they spend on these pages, which pages are popular, which pages are not, what paths users take through your website, etc. The answers to these questions can focus your attention on specific aspects of your website, making the UX design process a lot more manageable.

To give an example, perhaps people are spending a decent length of time reading one of your blogs, but they never take any action after this. They don’t go to another page, they don’t click on a link and they never return. From a personalisation point of view, you now know what they are interested in because of the blog they chose to read, so why not add a pop-up or chatbot message or ‘suggested for you’ list tailored to that user, prompting them to find out more about this particular subject.

The way in which your UX design interacts with users should be based on further research and where your new design element leads the user should not only be valuable to them but also align with your own business goals.

Machine learning

As you begin to write text into Google Search, the auto-fill will offer up a list of potential endings to your sentence based on trending topics at the time. The longer you use Instagram, the more aligned the ads become with your general interest area. These are both examples of machine learning in action. The algorithm at work in the background is collecting data, whether it be through cookies or general engagement, to ‘learn’ about what you would most likely want to see as a user. This is a source of endless and exciting potential for personalisation, where data is seamlessly processed into real, constantly evolving experiences for users.

Personalisation in UX design

What does all this look like in UX design and how complex does it need to be?

Some companies simply could not do without highly intelligent and dynamic personalisation capabilities because it is a defining characteristic of their product offering, for example, Spotify. Spotify may have started off as just another way to catalogue a personal music library, but now what people continue to pay for is the intuitive interface that allows them to discover new music that they actually like.

Then there are the all the other companies who are willing to personalise because they are savvy enough to recognise that it enhances user engagement, generates leads, speeds up the conversion process and cultivates long-lasting customer relationships. Define which kind of company you are and then decide how deep you want to dive into the personalisation pool.

Personalisation in web design and user experience

Highly personalised

Cara Harshman, formerly of Optimizely, wrote a very interesting article for the Moz blog about their adventures in personalisation. They created a total of 26 versions of their homepage to target different users and different times of the day. For instance, if you worked at Target, the hero message on the Optimizely homepage would have welcomed you with:

“Hello Target! Let’s optimize digital experiences for your guests.”

Or, if you visited the site at night, the first text on the page was,

“Still awake?”

Other content on the page was also aimed at the different user groups, all delivered with a view to answering their specific questions and showing the benefits that they would most be interested in. Designing a completely different homepage to match different types of target users is a growing trend. Imagine if every single one of your target customers experienced a streamlined version of your homepage made up only of the elements of your website that are of interest to them. This tactic is speeding up the conversion process for many companies as their users find what they need faster than ever before.

Loose form personalisation

Perhaps in-depth personalisation is overkill for your website, and a more relaxed form of personalisation is all that’s needed. A good example of this would be “Users who bought this item also bought…” as used by, you guessed it, Amazon. This method throws out the smoke and mirrors that pervades complex UX design and instead favours a more straightforward approach, nudging the user towards the next direction without making assumptions or taking too much control.

Put the power in their hands

You simply cannot know everything about your users, so why not put the person who knows them the best in the driving seat. That is, let the user customise their own experience. Facebook gives users the option to hide content that is not relevant to them and tracks the kinds of content they positively engage with so to direct more of this into their feed. Add this to you UX design, and suddenly you have a constant stream of invaluable, up to date user feedback.

Believe personalisation is the way to go? We certainly do! If you would like to have a conversation about connecting the dots between customer research and UX design, then get in contact with the MadBit team today.