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Is it a good idea to give visitor a toolbar, that can change the various CSS parameters, such as the alignment of text, the size and the color of the text, etc.? Or would that be perceived as the designer leaving his work to the end user?

  • It sounds like you're describing theming with fine-grained control over individual elements and styles. – kwah Sep 19 '16 at 0:50
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    I agree with @EvilClosetMonkey . Destroys simplicity and adds a learning curve... don't forget the unnecessary complexity. So, I think that's a bad idea. – Srikanth Sep 19 '16 at 5:22
  • This just works only for websites that offer html templates. It is convenient because you can test the template with the characteristics you want (color, navigation, layout). However, for a live website this should be avoided because the user can mess up the look and feel of the site and become confused. – Kristiyan Lukanov Sep 19 '16 at 8:15
  • I think the question is incomplete without mentioning the target users and nature of the application. If for example it were an application that needs me to read a lot of textual content, I'd love the possibility to change things and make them easier on the eye. Additionally an advanced user might appreciate it while a novice user might find it overwhelming – TDsouza Sep 20 '16 at 6:11
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It was fairly common about 10 years ago to have different 'themes' on forums for users to switch between. vBulletin boards did this a lot.

It's not a sign of weak design, and given the right situation can be a benefit.

If we look at web standards, then WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.4.8 does say that a "mechanism is available to achieve the following", including changing line spacing, colours, background colours, text width and text size. If you're designing a site for AAA level WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) compliance then you need to include some way for users to change aspects of the visual presentation.

AAA compliance is seen as a 'nice to have', even by the Web Accessibility Initiative. Going for AA is sufficient unless the client demands AAA, and at AA compliance there's no need for users to change most aspects of visual presentation (the one that users should be able to control, natively or through your site, is text size).

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    I'll add that in the past 10 years there has been ONE site that I have notably gained value by being able to modify. It was FogBugz issue tracking software for my full-time job (at the time). I was able to improve upon certain functionality by adding in custom js/css/html. I was very much a power user of this system, and appreciated their openness to extensibility. All that said, my custom changes would have had even more value being turned into plug-ins, or options, that were generally available to all users. – Ben Harrison Sep 21 '16 at 14:40
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I would first ask, what would be the purpose of allowing the user to do such as thing? Does this benefit the experience overall somehow? Without a compelling reason, it sounds like this would complicate the user experience for no benefit whatsoever.

One compelling reason would be to allow an admin user to whitelabel or theme a site/page so that other visitors may experience the site under that specific brand. This of course is essentially in a "editing" type of mode and not usually in a "viewing/read only" type of scenario.

Every once and awhile on sites, I also see options for the user to change the font size (small, large, extra large). Not sure how beneficial this method is, since anyone that needs the font larger likely has some accessibility features turned on in their browser/os, but these options are generally subtle and don't distract too much from other elements on their respective pages, so overall I don't see this feature necessarily in a negative light.

Then there's the feature of theming for individual use. A good example would be being able to change your webmail theme in gmail, yahoo, outlook, etc or even your web browser theme such as in Google Chrome. The big difference I see here is that when the user simply selects a theme, all the colors and font metrics are also set for them without further work from the user. This keeps the user choice simple by default (sometimes there are advanced options, but generally are not the first choices with which a user is presented). By keeping the theme choice simple, it allows the user to move on and cognitively focus on the more important parts of your website. Allowing the ability to more personalize an experience to an individual user can be a positive if done well.

Ultimately, I would shy away from giving the user too many options to "theme" your site, unless of course you have a compelling reason that will somehow improve their experience or allows required functionality to take place.

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    Agreed. Themes open up an enormous can of worms. For one, they're not created equal. Varying skill levels and effort of the people creating them can cause quite a bit of discrepancy. One bad theme can unfairly harm the perception of the rest of the underlying product. – Ben Harrison Sep 21 '16 at 14:50
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Customizing visual styles is ok (font-size, background color, a dozen themes to choose from, especially day/night themes).

Bigger benefit (for me, as a user) would be having customization over the content itself. For ex., I don't want to see Google Chat in Google Mail.

Of course, customization brings complexity.

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No. It is not a good idea.

Every browser already provides the ability to do this. The only thing you need to do is ensure you do not break the accessibility features inherent to the browser.

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I disagree.

Customization according to one's preferences has nothing to do with the generic UX. It's more like a feature add-on to the core service.

If we think about it, We do a lot of focused user research in order to create a user experience which caters to (targets) it's specific audience. By providing customization options, we are allowing users to further adjust the UI according to his/her own personal preferences.

It's very important to understand that just by providing UI Options, we can't make a drastic change in the core UX of a product. It's still the same product and UI customization comes with a cost of complexity and learning. So the placement of such features is also important. They should be discoverable by power users (Should be avoided during onboarding and early stages of user adaptation)

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It depends.

Customization options don't add anything to a site that will only be visited once, or infrequently. The time it takes to set up the customization will be disproportionate for the benefits it gives, and in the worst case, it will hinder good UX-Design ("Why bother, the user will customize it anyway").

On a site that is frequented often (facebook, google, ...) Customization options can, if done properly, avoid user frustration that would otherwise be unadressable (no accounting for taste). Here they offer a tool for the user to "claim" the site for their own.


The other problem with the idea, as you presented it, is the relatively high degree of complexity it suggests. The more options you give the user, the more time he needs to spend to learn how to use them. Are there any use-cases which actually justify the amount of learning the user would need to do? Could the tool as you describe it offer any options, that wouldn't be easier to use by presenting streamlined options (themes, readability options)?

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For accessibility reasons, there is no need to let the user adjust the fonts and colors of your site:

  1. Users who need a larger font or a better contrast do mostly already have some kind of assertive software on their devices.
  2. If they don't, they will have a hard time changing these settings on each and every site in order to be able to use those sites.

So, the answer is: Put your efforts on something more productive instead.

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  • Hogwash. There's a reason every browser allows users to change their display settings; accessibility. If you think accessibility is about catering to users of assistive technologies your very, very mistaken. Accessibility is about making sites work for humans. – Seth Warburton Sep 21 '16 at 7:31
  • @Seth, I think you might have misunderstood my intention. If the user has a need of changing font, colors etc then the user does benefit more by using assistive software on her own device. That software software will let the user set the colors, magnification level and so on and that will help the user in whatever app she might be using. Not many user will use such a settings on a particular site. – Ilias Bennani Sep 21 '16 at 10:40

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