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Many web applications that allow you to design website have drag & drop features that allow you to rearrange the layout as most of the components are modular. There are also many web applications that allow you to change labels in an 'edit-mode' on the fly.

So I am curious why most modern web applications don't support features where the users can change the layout for web applications (unless they resize the browser window) or allow users to rename labels to something that they are more familiar with. It would probably be a good alternate strategy to trying figuring out what the best layout and labels are for users, especially if you have a very diverse group of users with many different preferences.

Question: are there examples of web applications with drag & drop features for customizing layout?

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    This was a popular idea during the "portal" phase in the late 90's. There was also rumoured to be a version of Windows that allowed this kind of customisation of applications, on the fly. I suspect that most users didn't realise it was possible to customise and also that the engineering / testing effort required wasn't worthwhile. – Steve Jones Oct 20 '17 at 8:31
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Drag and drop layouts are alive and well(ish)

This is very common in the enterprise space. Especially in the realm of operational dashboards and business intel apps.

As with many things in the dark world of enterprise software, the user experience is rarely ideal. In the case of a complex and broadly applied product like Tableau, users are willing to take on the learning curve to get more from their data. There aren't many of those users so Tableau has to structure their pricing accordingly: the drag and drop creator is just an admin serving a larger group (and the per user cost is high).

It's not for everything

There are two big costs to configurable layouts: engineering effort and user learnability.

Obviously, there will be more development and testing time invested in giving users the tools to configure their own interface and to make that interface reliable (no body wants to work on that QA team!).

From the user's perspective, you're asking them to learn how to get at what they want. In a world of hyper-focused, "dive in and start winning" products, configurable is more hype than feature.

The web portals that Steve Jones mentioned in the comments are a great example of a place where it seemed right but just didn't stick. Those products were pretty awesome. I created some nice start pages over the years and lamented their demise. But the reality is that most people just couldn't be bothered.

Happy medium

IME, even with enterprise products, you often have a set of norms rather than an infinitely variable mix of needs. If you do provide a configurable UI, you still need to do the work to find a good set of default "starting points". The defaults or "canned views" represent aggregations of your users with like concerns or workflows (personas, if we have to label it).

In practice, these defaults end up accounting for 80–90% of the required applications. Now you have to ask yourself, is it worth the effort to build out UI customization for a minority of your users ... and risk complicating things for everyone else? The answer to that question is usually "no".

As with most scaleable products, the average often kills off the outliers.

  • +1 Yes, I hadn't thought about the enterprise system space :) – Michael Lai Mar 20 '18 at 21:11
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I'd guess that it would be because training materials for those websites would quickly become useless if the same feature had dozens (if not hundreds) of possible names.

The strategy you describe is (kind of) used today in a/b testing. 2 or more alternate designs are tested with live users, and their metrics recorded, to see which one performs better.

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