UI Practicum #10. Is Full Customization Always the Best Choice? (Three Ways to Handle Reminders)

Published June 26, 2017 by Jane Portman

Every single day founders (myself included) are bombarded with feature requests. Our gut instinct is to rush ahead and provide as much customization “power” as we can. But do users really need endless choices? Today we’ll explore three possible levels of customization. You’ll see how three web applications handle reminder settings in totally different ways.

Why are reminders interesting to me? Because I address them directly with my own product, Tiny Reminder. But I was very surprized when the same topic came up in my client work twice over the last few weeks.

Option 1. Full Customization

In Tiny Reminder, delivering notifications is the key feature. It’s front and center! So I’m offering fully customized reminder schedule for each request. Users go through three steps (tabs) with each request: build a form, set a reminder schedule, and add recipients.

Here’s what their reminder options look like.

Reminder settings in Tiny Reminder

Why is such advanced customization important?

Seems like the best approach, right? But full customization is not always the best for the user. Let’s look into other use cases.

Option 2. Choice of Presets

RoasterTools, made with love by Jon Ewalt, automates production process for coffee roasters. Roaster’s wholesale customers typically make orders every week on the same day. These customers need to be reminded to place their order on time.

During our consultation, Jon expressed a concern. Ideally, the reminder settings should be application-wide, because most customers require the same typical reminder schedule. But what about edge cases? A handful of customers would speak up and request more reminders, and some would request less. But the whole “custom schedule” thing for each customer would result in a clumsy, crowded interface.

That’s where presets come in handy. We can define a typical reminder scenario (let’s say, on the day of the deadline, and a day before that) and call it “Regular.” Then we introduce two other options that deviate from the typical scenario in both directions — for example, “Light” and “Intensive.”

Now, instead of a wall of advanced settings, the user gets a beautiful dropdown list with a few simple options. Something along these lines.

Reminder settings in RoasterTools (wireframe)

A few tips here:

Option 3. Simple Toggle

Bryan Marble, the founder of ClientSherpa, helps attorneys automate their client intake. The idea of his app is somewhat relevant to Tiny Reminder — forms, reminders, etc. But it’s way more advanced, detailed, and targets a narrow audience. It was exciting to design a completely different product around a similar idea.

In the intake layout, I sketched up a list of scheduled reminders, and thoughtfully included an “Edit Reminder Schedule” option. Here’s what I heard back from Bryan: “I think I’m going to keep the ”magic“ of the reminders out of their view. In other words, not let them make custom reminder schedules.”

It was a revelation! Bryan is probably the first founder who offered to cut back on customization (it usually goes in a different direction). We ended up with two simple toggles in the intake settings.

Reminder settings in ClientSherpa

These settings offer some customization, but they’re deadly simple, and also hidden from the main workflow. The user typically views them once — when creating a new matter type.

Why did we cut back on customization? Two big reasons:


Whenever you’re in doubt about customization, ask yourself the following qualifying questions:

  1. Is this feature “the value focus” of the app, or does it merely need to work in the background as a reliable service?
  2. Is your app very niche, or does it address multiple personas and use cases?
  3. How much do the typical choices vary? Can you think of good presets?
  4. How tech-savvy is your audience? Do they enjoy tinkering with advanced settings, or do they get confused instead?

Answers to these questions — and, of course, your product intuition — will help you make the right decision.

Have complex UI situations in your own product? Send in the screenshots to jane@uibreakfast.com, and I’ll tear down the most interesting situations here in UI Practicum.

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