I’m going to guess that recently, you opened an app on your phone or tablet and were greeted with either a warm welcome or a series of options for what you might like to do next.
Does that ring a bell?
Maybe, you opened Netflix and were offered a range of new shows - almost as if someone had meticulously gone through your viewing history and selected new material based on your recent choices.
Or, maybe you opened LinkedIn to find that the posts on your feed are all linked to the industry of a recent company you were researching. Oh, and don’t forget about that suggested connection for the person who just so happens to work at that very company.
These are just two simple examples of how personalization impacts us on a daily basis. In fact, it doesn't stop there. Brands have taken the idea of tailoring content and seamlessly incorporated it into various types of design.
Suggesting connections and providing you with shows relevant to your recent viewing history is one form of personalization, but brands are taking it even further by using personalized techniques that you might not even recognize.
Let’s take Netflix for example. According to a post on their tech blog, the company is now customizing the artwork you see for films and shows based on your previous selections and clicks. Depending on who you are, what you watch and how you use Netflix, you might see one of nine variations of a cover for some shows, such as the fan-favorite Stranger Things (above).
So how does this work exactly? Well, if you’ve watched a string of romantic movies you might be more likely to see a cover with a couple or a boy/girl. That's right - Netflix is subtly hitting you where you’re weak, or where you have an apparent interest or affection for a particular form of entertainment or films.
If you consider personalization from an e-commerce perspective you’ll also realize how useful it can be, and there certainly no shortage of examples how brands use this to their advantage.
Let’s take Amazon, who uses suggestions to counter what is known as the “long-tail problem.” If you’re familiar with the term long-tail from an SEO perspective, then you’ll know that it refers to rare, obscure items that are not very popular. However, when you combine the millions of unusual products, you find that you have a vast array of potential revenue.
Amazon uses their product recommendations to push items that they know will interest you, but that you usually wouldn’t find organically. It’s their crafty way of shifting slow moving inventory - but as a consequence, they’re also making you feel as if they’re offering these products specifically for you, and no one else.
Personalization is now an integral part of the design industry, primarily because it bridges the gap between the product or service, and the user. The core objective of personalization is to deliver content and functionality that precisely aligns with the user's needs or interests without the user having to put any effort into it at all.
If the user had to put effort into this, you would be talking about customization - a vital difference to highlight as recently the two terms have become interchangeable, and that’s not strictly correct.
The power of personalization is much stronger than customization. Think of Spotify Running. The tool geared towards runners and joggers aims to match your tempo with the appropriate music. Your steps per minute are used as the metric from which the songs are selected. Without this, you’ll just be listening to another one of your “customized” playlists that you’ve put together.
It’s clear that there is no shortage of images examples when it comes to brands and products using personalized design, and the shift towards more inconspicuous methods makes it even more likely that personalization will have an impact on our decision making.
However, how successful is it really, and how successful can it become? Is it possible that we’ll reach a point where personalized design reads our minds through a Brain-Computer Interface? Or will the trend of personalized design trail off into the abyss?
It would be naive to underestimate the strength of personalization, and as we pointed out, it can indeed be a robust design method. When used effectively, personalized design will unobtrusively provide users the options from which they can make a “better” choice, be it the next song they listen to, TV show they view, or gadget they buy.
Plus, from a business perspective, personalized design brings with it increased loyalty and an affinity towards your brand - something you'll undoubtedly want to strive for as it will help produce significantly more revenue in the future.
There are several ways that designers can use personalized design within their work. Granted, some may be more appropriate than others depending on the company, brand, product or service, but the reasons not to use personalization are becoming fewer by the day.
With the ways that you can implement personalized design in mind, it’s also important to consider how you can ensure that the designs are effective. Try these three steps when carrying out any of the above forms of personalization.
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