The Best Websites Combine Functionality and CustomizabilityA new study has shed some light on a subject that has split the web design community in two for years: how much control should you give to your users?
Most web designers favor a fixed design over allowing users customizability. But a vocal minority feels that design should let users change the look of virtually any site.
And the research shows that there is some merit to that perspective. S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, authored the study. His findings show that user developed a better sense of community and and increased their interaction with sites when they were allowed to create blog posts, add widgets and gadgets to their site, and change how the site looks. In short, increase interactivity and users will interact more.
Of course, there is a limit. Sundar’s findings also showed that interactivity drops off if too much choice is given. As said Sundar:
"Interactivity is more about user psychology, rather than the more-is-better approach that some engineers and designers choose to take. We need to strategically use interactive tools to help people interact in ways that are beneficial to both the users and site owners... Too much customization does exactly the opposite of what is intended. Users feel overwhelmed when a site offers a lot of gadgets or tools and they seem fatigued by making too many decisions; but we can counter all this by providing them a chance to express themselves."
What the researcher found was that interactivity increased user activity in unexpected ways. Cut out custom blogging, for example, and users stop interacting as much. Pretty obvious. But when they were not allowed to blog but were allowed to customize the look of their site, well, they started interacting by posting comments to those that could blog. Sad Sundar of this:
"It was curious. It was almost like cosmetic customization just whetted their appetite for self-expression."The test was performed with 141 recruits and took place over a two week period.