There’s been a lot of talk about personalized UX lately and it seems like we’re getting too caught up in the trend. Obviously, there are some great personalization use cases across different domains. Think of the pioneers in this field like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or Spotify and their smart recommendation systems.

These companies have set the expectations high for other digital services we use, even for more ‘traditional’ stuff like digital banking. Users now want experiences that are tailored to their specific interests and they want an app or a website to anticipate their needs.

So how does this create a better user experience?

A personalized service is giving them something useful without them having to ask for it. Users in turn feel like their needs are being met and that the interface they’re interacting with is designed just for them. This does wonders for user engagement, retention, and loyalty.

However, if you’re a UX designer looking to make your product more personal to the user, there is a but you should consider…

There’s a thin line between getting to know your users and creeping them out. If a product starts ‘behaving’ in a way that implies it’s using a whole lot of user data, users can feel like they’re being surveilled. This is definitely not the experience you want to deliver.

How does personalization work?

When a user interacts with a website or an app, each interaction e.g. click on a CTA, view of in-app notification, is tracked. Digital products that enable personalization learn from user’s data to support experiences that are unique to them. Leveraging machine learning technologies, the system can adapt the content, information, or even features to user’s needs and in real time.

How to do it right

Perform user research. Don’t make assumptions about your target users. Do the research to understand what matters to them and what their limits are when it comes to personalization i.e. how much data they’re willing to share in exchange for a tailored experience.

By getting these insights you’ll know just how much personalization your product needs to truly add value and make users happy.

Make it invisible - Personalization is a step towards providing a flawless user experience, and as such it should be “invisible.” Users already expect personalization to happen in a totally unintrusive way. When we say invisible, we think of the personalization that works since users detect it only when it doesn’t. For example, everyone knows Netflix uses data analytics to show users content they might want to watch. But do users really think about Netflix using their data? Not too much. And this is exactly what you want to achieve when delivering personalized experiences.

Ask users for permission to collect data - Data is at the core of any great personalized experience and GDPR makes this a bit more complicated. It gives individuals more control over who can collect and store their data. And that’s a good thing!

You have nothing to worry about as long as you collect data in a transparent way and then use that data for the benefit of your users. This will enable you to deliver amazing experiences and your users will reward you with loyalty. Loyal users are happy to share more data. It’s a virtuous circle of increased trust, more user data analyzed, and more relevant user experiences.

Don’t forget to test: The only way to truly understand if what you are doing is right is by testing your product, i.e. personalization features, with your users. It will often surprise you to see how different the insights from these testings can be from your assumptions.

Only when you perform usability tests and qualitative research will you know precisely how you users interact with your product and how they feel about using it. This will help you provide experiences that are tailor-made for your users.

Conclusion

Personalization can make your digital product more powerful, but only if it’s done right. When it comes to personalization, empathy plays an important role. It all comes down to understanding the needs of your users, there’s simply no other way to create a meaningful UX. And finally, if personalization isn’t subtle and goes too far, it becomes creepy and can completely ruin the user experience.