Thoughts on skinning/customizing enterprise apps?

2 Nov 2006 - 12:04pm
7 years ago
15 replies
656 reads
russwilson
2005

I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
providing customizaton for the presentation of our
enterprise apps.

Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?

I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
identity, support concerns, etc.

If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but
then how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another
"hey you can also do this" (when in reality they probably never
will or don't really care).

Thanks,
Russ

Russell Wilson | Director of Product Design
NetQoS, Inc. | 5001 Plaza on the Lake, Austin, TX 78746
512.334.3725 | russell.wilson at netqos.com

NetQoS: Performance Experts
www.netqos.com

Comments

2 Nov 2006 - 12:17pm
maglez@btintern...
2006

Don't do it!

That trivial customization that you say is the one that you shouldn't provide. The final user is
not a graphics designer, if you give him the option to change colours, he will most likely do it
without a sense of the over all composition, he will choose blue for the background and white for
the text, will use the site a few times and then won't use it any more.

If you want to allow customization, do it over the content, if the site is about news, give him
the option to choose world news or local, or sport, etc. but leave the graphics design to
professionals.

Maglez.

--- "Wilson, Russell" <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com> wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
> providing customizaton for the presentation of our
> enterprise apps.
>
> Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?
>
> I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
> and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
> identity, support concerns, etc.
>
> If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
> the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but
> then how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another
> "hey you can also do this" (when in reality they probably never
> will or don't really care).
>
> Thanks,
> Russ
>
>
> Russell Wilson | Director of Product Design
> NetQoS, Inc. | 5001 Plaza on the Lake, Austin, TX 78746
> 512.334.3725 | russell.wilson at netqos.com
>
> NetQoS: Performance Experts
> www.netqos.com
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
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>

2 Nov 2006 - 12:24pm
James Melzer
2004

On the other hand, if you have an enterprise app that you know has a
poor interface (let's just say it isn't a priority), allowing your
customers to skin the interface can go a long way to making the app
usable/useful. If it is built as a framework, it can also be used when
extending the app to build new interfaces or to fix global usability
flaws in a global way.

~ James

On 11/2/06, Miguel Gonzalez <maglez at btinternet.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Don't do it!
>
> That trivial customization that you say is the one that you shouldn't provide. The final user is
> not a graphics designer, if you give him the option to change colours, he will most likely do it
> without a sense of the over all composition, he will choose blue for the background and white for
> the text, will use the site a few times and then won't use it any more.
>
> If you want to allow customization, do it over the content, if the site is about news, give him
> the option to choose world news or local, or sport, etc. but leave the graphics design to
> professionals.
>
> Maglez.
>
>
> --- "Wilson, Russell" <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com> wrote:
>
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
> >
> > I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
> > providing customizaton for the presentation of our
> > enterprise apps.
> >
> > Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?
> >
> > I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
> > and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
> > identity, support concerns, etc.
> >
> > If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
> > the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but
> > then how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another
> > "hey you can also do this" (when in reality they probably never
> > will or don't really care).
> >
> > Thanks,
> > Russ
> >
> >
> > Russell Wilson | Director of Product Design
> > NetQoS, Inc. | 5001 Plaza on the Lake, Austin, TX 78746
> > 512.334.3725 | russell.wilson at netqos.com
> >
> > NetQoS: Performance Experts
> > www.netqos.com
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> > List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> > (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> > Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> > Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> > Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> > Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
> >
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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>

--
James Melzer
http://www.jamesmelzer.com
http://del.icio.us/jamesmelzer

2 Nov 2006 - 12:58pm
Josh Seiden
2003

> On the other hand,
> > Don't do it!
> > > I am often presented with the idea of skinning
or
> > > providing customizaton for the presentation

-------------

My experience of the ERP space is that visual
application design tends to be pretty divorced from
interaction design, which makes skinning a reasonable
possibility.

I agree with Miguel that you don't want user-defined
skins. Ever.

However, I do see the value in re-skinning to provide
co-branding possibilities, to integrate better with an
intranet, to meet the corporate visual ID needs of the
implementing enterprise. I would certainly expect to
be in control of the skin, and to treat is as a
system, not as a lego set of disparate parts.

JS

2 Nov 2006 - 1:13pm
leo.frishberg a...
2005

Providing "skins" for the sake of providing the user with the
opportunity to custom design the look-and-feel is probably a really bad
idea in the context of office automation, enterprise applications, etc.
Certainly it is one of ::the:: features of consumer focused apps.

But here's something to think about - structuring the application itself
to permit reskinning can be key to the application's success. The skin
that is applied should be carefully crafted by the design team to
support the desired interactions. As the application needs to be
"refreshed", as new interactions are required, or if aspects of it are
restructured, updating the skin (to support these structural changes)
becomes not only a trivial effort, but an inexpensive opportunity.

Leo

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Wilson, Russell
Sent: Thursday, November 02, 2006 9:04 AM
To: ixda
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Thoughts on skinning/customizing enterprise
apps?

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]

I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
providing customizaton for the presentation of our
enterprise apps.

Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?

I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
identity, support concerns, etc.

If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but
then how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another
"hey you can also do this" (when in reality they probably never
will or don't really care).

Thanks,
Russ

Russell Wilson | Director of Product Design
NetQoS, Inc. | 5001 Plaza on the Lake, Austin, TX 78746
512.334.3725 | russell.wilson at netqos.com

NetQoS: Performance Experts
www.netqos.com

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
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2 Nov 2006 - 1:26pm
E. Miller
2006

Hi all,

Just as a quick side note on this -- we recently worked on a large
application UI project where the preliminary specs called for
user-configurable display elements like window skins, text size,
fonts...which became a problem, when I saw that end users were doing things
like red-on-fuschia 20pt Comic Sans MS on an 1280 x 1024 LCD monitor running
at 800 x 600. (extreme example, but stuff like that was happening)

So we defined a very limited subset of customizable/skinnable attributes.
Tahoma is OK, Verdana isn't. A limited bumping up on the font size is OK as
long as you have your monitor set at the optimal resolution and the window
can scale. No custom cursors. We documented this with rationales on
consistency and usability.

So maybe not fully skin-able interfaces unless it's an MP3 player or
something, but otherwise let people have fun personalizing the UI through
treatments that don't adversely affect usability?

Eric

> Providing "skins" for the sake of providing the user with the
> opportunity to custom design the look-and-feel is probably a really bad
> idea in the context of office automation, enterprise applications, etc.
> Certainly it is one of ::the:: features of consumer focused apps.

...

> I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
> and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
> identity, support concerns, etc.
>
> If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
> the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but
> then how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another
> "hey you can also do this" (when in reality they probably never
> will or don't really care).

2 Nov 2006 - 2:51pm
russwilson
2005

This is the direction we were considering, but
I have to ask "is it worth it?" Is the extra
work to provide this capability (the cost) less than
the ultimate benefit perceived by the user? Will you
get a reasonable ROI for doing this? If you have 1000
users and only 2 care or take advantage of it...

(aside from the good points about the internal development
and maintenance benefits resulting from developing a
skinnable architecture)

---------------------------------------------------
Hi all,

Just as a quick side note on this -- we recently worked on a large
application UI project where the preliminary specs called for
user-configurable display elements like window skins, text size,
fonts...which became a problem, when I saw that end users were doing
things like red-on-fuschia 20pt Comic Sans MS on an 1280 x 1024 LCD
monitor running at 800 x 600. (extreme example, but stuff like that was
happening)

So we defined a very limited subset of customizable/skinnable
attributes.
Tahoma is OK, Verdana isn't. A limited bumping up on the font size is
OK as long as you have your monitor set at the optimal resolution and
the window can scale. No custom cursors. We documented this with
rationales on consistency and usability.

So maybe not fully skin-able interfaces unless it's an MP3 player or
something, but otherwise let people have fun personalizing the UI
through treatments that don't adversely affect usability?

Eric

2 Nov 2006 - 3:31pm
Josh Seiden
2003

This is where I would look at the "experience goals"
you have defined/discovered for your user population.

What kind of experience do they want to have with the
product? Do they want no-muss, no-fuss, wrinkle-free?
Do they want a highly personal experience? In what
ways will this skinning feature allow them to meet
this goal?

Then, what is the value of satisfying that experience
goal? What happens if you don't satisfy it? What is
the relative value compared to satisfying their other
types of goals (typically "end goals")?

JS

--- "Wilson, Russell" <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com>
wrote:

> This is the direction we were considering, but
> I have to ask "is it worth it?" Is the extra
> work to provide this capability (the cost) less than
> the ultimate benefit perceived by the user? Will
> you
> get a reasonable ROI for doing this? If you have
> 1000
> users and only 2 care or take advantage of it...

2 Nov 2006 - 4:14pm
Josh
2006

Offering customization features can definitely work to the advantage of the
application and it's users if the goal of the customization is to add
efficiency.

Things to consider:
1. How much time will users spend customizing the application? Time spent
customizing the application is time spent not actually using the application
for it's designed purpose. There is an actual cost to consider above and
beyond the addition of the customization feature.
2. What level of access/skill set is necessary for customization to take
place? In some cases adding advanced customization features accessible by an
approved few with the correct skill set can be an option. Some organizations
may be willing to hire/train someone specifically for this role. An example
would be a company hiring/training someone specifically to manage a highly
customizable Sharepoint portal.
3. Would the customization allow for users to re-layout the UI to help them
prioritize their work and give them easy access to information that was more
difficult to access before? In this case the feature could add efficiency
for the end user and possibly reduce feature requests from users with very
specific needs.
4. What is at the heart of the user's "can you do this" question? They may
be noticing inefficiencies in the design and assuming that customization is
the answer when the answer may actually be that the app needs some redesign
work.
5. An increase in power means an increase in responsibility. Are the users
ready for that responsibility?

- Josh
EastMedia

> ________________________________________________________________
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2 Nov 2006 - 4:09pm
Lisa Battle
2006

The ability to change the font size and increase the
foreground/background contrast is also an
accessibility feature. It makes the application more
usable for people with less than perfect vision. If
you sell to the government (and it looks like you do),
this could be a good ROI argument.

Lisa Battle

--- "Wilson, Russell" <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com>
wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only
> relevant quoted material.]
>
> This is the direction we were considering, but
> I have to ask "is it worth it?" Is the extra
> work to provide this capability (the cost) less than
> the ultimate benefit perceived by the user? Will
> you
> get a reasonable ROI for doing this? If you have
> 1000
> users and only 2 care or take advantage of it...
>
> (aside from the good points about the internal
> development
> and maintenance benefits resulting from developing a
>
> skinnable architecture)
>
>
>
> ---------------------------------------------------
> Hi all,
>
> Just as a quick side note on this -- we recently
> worked on a large
> application UI project where the preliminary specs
> called for
> user-configurable display elements like window
> skins, text size,
> fonts...which became a problem, when I saw that end
> users were doing
> things like red-on-fuschia 20pt Comic Sans MS on an
> 1280 x 1024 LCD
> monitor running at 800 x 600. (extreme example, but
> stuff like that was
> happening)
>
> So we defined a very limited subset of
> customizable/skinnable
> attributes.
> Tahoma is OK, Verdana isn't. A limited bumping up
> on the font size is
> OK as long as you have your monitor set at the
> optimal resolution and
> the window can scale. No custom cursors. We
> documented this with
> rationales on consistency and usability.
>
> So maybe not fully skin-able interfaces unless it's
> an MP3 player or
> something, but otherwise let people have fun
> personalizing the UI
> through treatments that don't adversely affect
> usability?
>
> Eric
>
>
________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association
> (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............
> http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help ..................
> http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ...
> http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List .........
> http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ...........
> http://resources.ixda.org
>

3 Nov 2006 - 1:27am
Richard Czerwonka
2005

If you are referring to Microsft Windows, then I just use whatever fonts/colours the user
has set up in the control panel.

If you were designing a small application you are trying to sell to individuals over the
Internet then I would say full steam ahead. In an enterprise environment it's best to keep
things plain, simple and above all consistent. If you read the results of the user testing
that Microsoft does (it's on their website), most people won't change anything anyway.

On 2 Nov 2006 at 11:04, Wilson, Russell wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
> providing customizaton for the presentation of our
> enterprise apps.
>
> Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?
>
> I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
> and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
> identity, support concerns, etc.
>
> If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
> the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but then
> how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another "hey you can
> also do this" (when in reality they probably never will or don't
> really care).
>
> Thanks,
> Russ

=================
Richard Czerwonka,
Delphi Programmer
ENT Technologies
Mob: 0412 104 042
=================

3 Nov 2006 - 3:08am
Håkan Reis
2006

> I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
> and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
> identity, support concerns, etc.

Branding can very well be just the reason for skinning. When building
enterprise apps that will be used in a global environment it may be
valuable to be able to rebrand the application to the local office.
When it comes to product handling it can also be valuable to rebrand
the app depending on the product focus it us used for.

But I don't think it should be user selected in these cases. To
orovide skinning just for the cause of it is not a good idea. The user
is exposed enough selections anyway. It doesn't make it simpler for
them.

3 Nov 2006 - 4:20am
maglez@btintern...
2006

If you want to allow the user to re-brand the UI, that shouldn't be done through re-skinning, it
should be done through the use of templates, a template that would allow them to change things
like the logo and some other design elements, but don't give full power to the final user, they
are not designers.

As Josh says, you should find the user's goal, plus the business needs, make the best of both and
see if it is possible with the technology at your hands. Everything is possible today, but only if
you have the appropriated technology and people able to put that technology together, the company
able to pay for it and the final user wishing to use it.

Maglez.

--- Josh Seiden <joshseiden at yahoo.com> wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> This is where I would look at the "experience goals"
> you have defined/discovered for your user population.
>
> What kind of experience do they want to have with the
> product? Do they want no-muss, no-fuss, wrinkle-free?
> Do they want a highly personal experience? In what
> ways will this skinning feature allow them to meet
> this goal?
>
> Then, what is the value of satisfying that experience
> goal? What happens if you don't satisfy it? What is
> the relative value compared to satisfying their other
> types of goals (typically "end goals")?
>
> JS
>
> --- "Wilson, Russell" <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com>
> wrote:
>
> > This is the direction we were considering, but
> > I have to ask "is it worth it?" Is the extra
> > work to provide this capability (the cost) less than
> > the ultimate benefit perceived by the user? Will
> > you
> > get a reasonable ROI for doing this? If you have
> > 1000
> > users and only 2 care or take advantage of it...
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

3 Nov 2006 - 5:16am
stauciuc
2006

Probably people are using two words for the same meaning.
By skinning, that's exactly what I personally understand: using different
sets of design elements. Change the skin and you change or adjust the
branding. (Well, just a part of the branding, ofcourse - the visual part).
You can have a number of pre-made skins that the user (or whomever) can
choose from, without allowing change to any individual element.

On 11/3/06, Miguel Gonzalez <maglez at btinternet.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> If you want to allow the user to re-brand the UI, that shouldn't be done
> through re-skinning, it
> should be done through the use of templates, a template that would allow
> them to change things
> like the logo and some other design elements, but don't give full power to
> the final user, they
> are not designers.
>
> As Josh says, you should find the user's goal, plus the business needs,
> make the best of both and
> see if it is possible with the technology at your hands. Everything is
> possible today, but only if
> you have the appropriated technology and people able to put that
> technology together, the company
> able to pay for it and the final user wishing to use it.
>
> Maglez.
>
>
> --- Josh Seiden <joshseiden at yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
> >
> > This is where I would look at the "experience goals"
> > you have defined/discovered for your user population.
> >
> > What kind of experience do they want to have with the
> > product? Do they want no-muss, no-fuss, wrinkle-free?
> > Do they want a highly personal experience? In what
> > ways will this skinning feature allow them to meet
> > this goal?
> >
> > Then, what is the value of satisfying that experience
> > goal? What happens if you don't satisfy it? What is
> > the relative value compared to satisfying their other
> > types of goals (typically "end goals")?
> >
> > JS
> >
> > --- "Wilson, Russell" <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com>
> > wrote:
> >
> > > This is the direction we were considering, but
> > > I have to ask "is it worth it?" Is the extra
> > > work to provide this capability (the cost) less than
> > > the ultimate benefit perceived by the user? Will
> > > you
> > > get a reasonable ROI for doing this? If you have
> > > 1000
> > > users and only 2 care or take advantage of it...
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> > List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> > (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> > Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> > Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> > Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> > Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
> >
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
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> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

--
Sergiu Sebastian Tauciuc
http://www.sergiutauciuc.ro/en/

3 Nov 2006 - 7:01am
AlokJain
2006

I have spent last 5 years doing a complete UX framework for a large
organization's Extranet and Intranet including Data Portal, Content
Sites, Tools, Transactional capabilities, Personalized portals etc.
Needless to say, several technologies were used (UX team not involved
in selection process) like WPS, SAP Netweaver etc..

Each one has out of box capabilities which provides different
experience to users. We had to focus on re-skinning the apps, aligning
Interaction Design etc. It adds value in terms of providing a
consistent experience to end users and all other benefits associated
with it. We did balance the needs from experience goals against impact
on support and customization cost.

If it's only one technology, even then I think you should look at what
kind of experience goals you have and then take a call if it is worth
customizing.

Cheers
Alok

>
> On 2 Nov 2006 at 11:04, Wilson, Russell wrote:
>
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> > material.]
> >
> > I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
> > providing customizaton for the presentation of our
> > enterprise apps.
> >
> > Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?
> >
> > I ask because I am against doing things "just because we can",
> > and there are many issues to consider - breaking branding and
> > identity, support concerns, etc.
> >
> > If the customization options are trivial (e.g allow users to change
> > the color of window title bars) it would lessen the concerns, but then
> > how beneficial is it really to users? Is it just another "hey you can
> > also do this" (when in reality they probably never will or don't
> > really care).
> >
> > Thanks,
> > Russ
>
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> ENT Technologies
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--
Best Regards
Alok Jain
----------------------------------------------------------
User Experience Management Solutions
Satyam Computer Services Ltd. - Washington DC

5 Nov 2006 - 9:18am
Michael Micheletti
2006

Russell, most of the responses here so far relate to UI skin changes done by
users. There's another type of reskinning or rebranding which is done for a
client or partner behind the scenes. If you prepare your application (say
it's for the "XCorp") so that you can drop in other logos, graphics, and
color scheme so that it looks like it's from the "YCorp" when a user logs in
from there, this is skinning as a benefit for business partners. Whenever
I've built this sort of private branding capability into an application,
it's built goodwill and good business. Partners love it when you do this. If
you design your application to support fairly straightforward private
branding, you're ahead of the game.

At the user end, being able to adjust font size is of benefit and should not
be prevented or broken. Some websites offer a font size adjustment option on
the screen. This assumes that you already do a good job on contrast and
readability, and that the native colors are attractive.

Finally, if you're designing a site for teens, accept that they will see the
ability to have unreadable tiny red letters on a black background as a huge
plus. For them, it's less important that the outcome be attractive than that
the outcome be _theirs_.

Michael Micheletti

On 11/2/06, Wilson, Russell <Russell.Wilson at netqos.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> I am often presented with the idea of skinning or
> providing customizaton for the presentation of our
> enterprise apps.
>
> Any thoughts on the real user benefits/value of this?
>
>

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