Personalization in UI design is like an extension of responsive design. Responsive Web Design adapts the layout based on the device you are using, whereas personalization adapts to suit the needs of the individual user. The way it looks and how it functions can be tailored so different users see different things. For instance, if you have poor eyesight font-size and kerning can automatically increase to make reading easier.
How Does it Work?
You have already experienced a level of personalization through user-specific advertising such as on Facebook, and suggested products based on your search history as seen on Amazon. Personalization in UI design would derive its capabilities from the same pool of information. This metadata is already available and being used behind the scenes so to speak, to bring personalization to its users.
“The main goal of personalization is to deliver content and functionality that matches specific user needs or interests, with no effect from the targeted users” (Schade, 2016)
Personalization vs. Customization
Personalization is done by the system itself by gathering information about each user and applying changes as necessary. Customization would involve more work on the part of the user. They would be given the opportunity to customize features to suit their needs. Both options have drawbacks and benefits.
Personalization offers an individualized experience that requires no effort from the user. Concerns however will inevitably rise surrounding privacy and ethical use of sensitive information. To give a user the most accurate experience will require access to as much personal information as possible, which for many users will cause discomfort and distrust.
Another issue is having to rely on the applications ability to guess what each user needs. If the personalization is way off, you won’t retain users, but if it is too good you may also cause concerns about how much personal information you have. Finding the right balance will likely prove difficult.
Customization will avoid these issues regarding privacy because it puts the user in control. They can decide what information to share or to keep private. It also has the potential to enhance user experience even further than Personalization because users can set their own preferences and tailor what they see to be exactly what they want and need.
The issue however is that many users may not even know what they need. This is especially true for inexperienced users, the very young, or the elderly. Furthermore, giving users such control sounds great in theory, but in actual application may not prove successful. One of the biggest rules in UX design is to ensure users do as little as possible to achieve their goals. Customization requires quite a lot of the user, and I doubt it would have great success unless the interface was very well designed.
Age-responsive design is another term being thrown around for 2017. It incorporates personalization but focuses on age-groups to determine which adaptation of a website to present to each user. This variation of personalization could be an effective stepping-stone into more user-specific personalization. This excerpt from medium.com explains how a site could change:
- Navigation menus will expand and contract depending on perceived competency of users; those with difficulty will be presented with stripped-down interfaces to make it easier for them to interact the limited feature sets they are already familiar with.
- Font-sizes and spacing will naturally increase to accommodate the eyesight of the elderly
- Color-schemes will change; the young will experience more saturated hues, the old more muted palettes.
Concerns surrounding information security and gathering and use of personal information are extensive and justified. Personalization is a great idea, but the real-world application of it may be problematic. Although it is already creeping into our everyday interactions online, it remains to be seen to what extent personalized UI will be used. The potential for enhanced user experience is there, it is just a matter of execution.
Buckley, Chase (2016) The Future is Near: 13 Design Predictions for 2017. Retrieved from
Zolciak, Antoni (2016) Will Age-Responsive Web Design Take the World by Storm in 2017? Retrieved from
Schade, Amy (2016) Customization vs. Personalization in the User Experience. Retrieved from
Levenson, Hannah (2017) Mobile UX Trends For 2017. Retrieved from