Marli Mesibov Personalisation blog for MUXL

Phones that recognise your face. Apps that learn your preferences. Search results customised to opinions you never (knowingly) shared. The technology exists, and personalisation has moved from an unexpected delight to a common requirement in the UX world. Now we need to ensure personalisation is done well, so we can create user experiences that engage our audiences.

Why Personalise?

Personalised experiences can make the complex simple. Consider working with your bank.  Rather than remembering all your account details, you rely on being able to log in and get personalised information relating to your accounts, and more importantly the rules and regulations relevant to your situation.

We can see the same scenario play out across the American healthcare system – a system with more complexity and fewer opportunities for people to easily find their information.. Each health insurance company offers dozens or even hundreds of plans, which result in different health costs depending on the person’s plan, the provider they see, the hospital where they receive care, and many other factors. In order to find out how much a procedure will cost or what level of care they are even allowed to receive, an individual needs to have memorised the name and details of their plan – which is not a reasonable expectation. If a website, portal, or other program can instead remember a person’s plan name, and then show them personalised information based on that plan, the experience moves from frustrating and confusing to simple and helpful.

Of course, personalisation is not always the right choice. When we need to ask a lot of questions in order to personalise an experience, but aren’t able to offer significant value through personalisation, our efforts hurt rather than help.

We Can Personalise the Experience – Should We?

Unfortunately, whether or not personalisation is right for your audience and your situation is not a simple yes-or-no answer. There are many levels of personalisation, broadly falling into three categories:

Level One: We know you are our audience
Conduct user research to understand the audience’s goals, and speak to those goals on your site or app.

Level Two: We are saving information about you
This might mean remembering that a user has visited the site before; or displaying different content based on whether they self-identified as an individual vs business shopper. These are examples of personalisation that can simplify the user experience, or complicate it – all depending on what your audience actually wants.

Level Three: We are learning information about you
Given the newest technological opportunities with AI, there is a 3rd option. This has the danger of being the most invasive, and it is certainly the most complex – but it can also reap the largest rewards. By setting up business rules and algorithms, an application can actually learn from the audience and make new decisions or provide new offerings based on what they learn.

All of these are options, but there’s no one “right” method to follow.

How Can I Build a Personalised Experience?

The key to building a personalised experience is to stop asking “should we personalise this” or “how much should we personalise this.” Instead, ask: “what does my audience want to accomplish?” or alternatively, “why is my audience using my app or site?”

Opportunities for personalisation will become clear – typically when you answer “How can I make it easier for them” and “what form should that information take?”

Sometimes the answer to “How can I make it easier” will be “by telling my audience I already have this information saved, because they gave it to me earlier.” Sometimes the answer to “what form” will be “by suggesting a few options that they might want to see.” Other times the answer will be “by letting them tell me.”

Start Personalising, Start Engaging

True personalisation is about providing an experience that speaks to your audience. Thus, the trick to creating engaging experiences is focusing on what your audience needs, as opposed to what you want to create for them. People are engaged when they are able to make choices that feel meaningful. By meeting them at a level of technical personalisation that works for their needs, you are truly personalising their experience.


About Marli

Marli Mesibov is the VP of Content Strategy at the digital UX agency Mad*Pow. Her work spans strategy and experiences across industries, with a particular interest in healthcare, finance, and education. She is a frequent conference speaker, a former editor of the UX publication UX Booth, and was voted one of MindTouch’s Top 25 Content Strategist Influencers in 2016. Marli can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on UX Design, content strategy, and Muppets. You can learn more about her and her work at
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