If you take a look at the latest iOS update you will see a handful of new opportunities for users to tailor how their device looks and performs. Between UX settings like Dark Mode, more detailed permissions for how you share personal data, and customized shortcuts that allow you to converse with your apps — we’ve reached a point where identical pieces of hardware are fundamentally different than their assembly line counterparts once in the hands of end users.
Customization on our devices has been progressing since Microsoft gave us the choice between flying toasters and a labyrinth of pipes for our ’90s-era screensavers; however more recently it’s become commonplace for our mobile apps to have similar skews of options that can make them indistinguishable from the same program on another device.
The impact of a dev strategy devoted to deep customization is complex and resource intensive, which may lead many product heads to question whether or not it makes sense for their next app or update. However, in the quest to attract and retain users where many options not only exist within apps themselves but also in the online marketplaces where competitors seek to steal users, the question for the vast majority of developers is not “if” they should implement such a strategy – but “how?”
Start by listening
While options for customization are deep and increasingly frequent within consumer apps, you’ll want to avoid a kitchen-sink approach when deciding where to bake in increased user choice. Ultimately, any new features need to create value and align with the product mission; otherwise, you risk burning budget and confusing customers.
The journey to identify new features is simple – listen to your users. When trying to determine what points of customization are going to generate the strongest response, there will inevitably be a litany of suggestions delivered directly to your team in the form of app store reviews and social media communications.
Crowdsourcing features is powerful not only because it elicits feedback from a non-biased group of users who understand your product’s position in the marketplace but also because it’s an opportunity to speak directly to your most engaged customers and show them you are listening to their needs. By incorporating their suggestions into the roadmap, your brand has the opportunity to build a deeper connection with these users, drive retention, and boost advocacy and loyalty among customers.
Make it D.O.P.E
Many opportunities for customization exist within the dev landscape, and while not exhaustive, it’s likely that any addition will accomplish one of the following: (D)elight, (O)ptimize the experience, (P)rotect, or (E)ngage the end user.
More often than not, the “delighter” features are those that originate from user feedback. While not essential to the performance of the application, these features often spark creativity and help users make the experience their own. Examples come in the form of custom icons, skins, and other preferences that speak to the individuality of the end user.
On the other hand, “optimizers” have the potential to greatly impact performance (and the end experience) by granting users more control over how the app operates. An emerging example of an optimizer is the addition of controls that modify performance based on the specific network the device is connected to. Settings like a “5G configuration” or “low data mode” ensure applications are not only performing as they should but are also respecting any restrictions or data capacities the user faces.
Like optimizers, “protectors” can be toggled-on or off based on a user’s sensitivity to the problem the feature addresses. However, with relentless headlines about cybersecurity and the misuse or personal data, this category of customization is more important than ever before. Protectors could be any feature designed to safeguard sensitive or personal data. That could include ad blockers, incognito mode, encryption, and password protection.
Finally, “engagers” are features that seek to deliver richer, more tailored experiences to users based on their preferences and previous behavior. Whether powered algorithmically or through a simple survey the user completes upon installing the app, these features deliver content and recommendations that are “handpicked” to correspond to a user’s individual tastes.
Ultimately, it may not be feasible to roll out an arsenal of customization within the next update; and while power users may be an excellent source of inspiration, it’s the responsibility of the product team to find the right balance of immediate customer need and pre-emptive market factors that spark new features within an app. By leveraging active listening in the ideation process and focusing on features that delight, optimize, protect, and engage, product teams can find ample and strategic opportunities to seed customization into the next product cycle and beyond.
Joe Wilson is director of product and UX at Cake Technologies.