You say personalisation, I say customisation, let’s call the whole thing off

Does personalisation happen in the back end, or in the front end? Or is that customisation? The answer depends on who you speak to. In the user experience, information architecture and interaction design worlds, definitions of the two terms aren't universal.

So what is personalisation?
Some define personalisation as the ability for the system to show content to an end-user based on who they are. Others call this customisation.

What about customisation?
Some define customisation as the ability for an end-user to manipulate and choose what or how things are displayed in an interface. Others call this very same thing personalisation.

Well that’s confusing!
I know, tell me about it! So I went to the big wigs to try to get some consensus.

Who says what?
I did a quick tally to see which camp the big wigs fall into: is personalisation controlled in the back or front end? Here’s the results

Who says personalisation is controlled
in the back end?
Who says personalisation is controlled
in the front end?
Gerry McGovern

Jakob Nielsen

Peter Merholtz

Lou Rosenfeld

Christina Wodtke

Donald Norman

Steve Krug

Jef Raskin

Luke Wroblewski

There is no consensus!
That’s right. Even the big wigs of UX, IA and IxD can’t agree on personalisation. I also found a helpful CHI Web discussionfrom way back that illustrates the same issue.

So what now?
I suggest you choose which camp you agree with. Does personalisation happen in the back end and customisation the front end? Or vice versa? Either way you have a bunch of luminaries who already agree with you. Just make sure you always, ALWAYS include your definition when referring to either personalisation or customisation.

P.S. I’m in the “personalisation = back end and customisation = front end” camp.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, nice blog! I'm a UX consultant for more than 14 years and we've been discussing this for ages with different projects in different sectors. I think personalisation IS DEFINED in the backend based on set of rules to analyse the data of the customer as well as business goals (e.g. cross selling based on previous behaviour). However personalisation OCURRS in the front end based on those rules and in other functionalities that the user is allow to manage or personalise. (E.g. Don't show me this type of message again). Therefore both positions are right! :-)