(comment left on Patrick Webster's blog)
JaYoung Sung, Rebecca E. Grinter and Henrik I. Christensen
School of Interactive Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
In this interestingly named paper, Sung et al. research the effects of personalization on the Roomba and test Blom and Monk's theory of personalization. They found that while there has been multiple studies on personalization with e-commerce and web applications, there wasn't much research that had been done on "off-desktop-interfaces." So the research team chose the roomba as the object to be personalized and provided 30 households with Roombas. They gave 15 of those households personalization kits that included skins, stickers, and markers. These households were a relatively even mix of singles, married couples and families.
The results of the study showed that 6 of the 15 who were provided kits actually customized their Roomba for reasons that included feeling a personal connection and appreciation for their Roomba, wanting the Roomba to blend into the aesthetic design of the home, or conversely, wanting the Roomba to stand out from the background of the home. Some owners even said that they felt the machine worked better now that it was "more human."
For the others who did not customize their Roomba, motivations included that they couldn't find a skin that matched their household or reflect the design they wanted or that they felt that customizing their Roomba would not add value to the device.
The research team also found that of the 15 households who were not provided a kit, none went out of their way to customized their Roomba because they felt that it was too much trouble to do so.
The main conclusion from the research is that customization does increase the sense of ownership and appreciation for the device. As such there is good reason for designers to include these kind of features. The team also found that people need to have a kick-start to begin customizing their devices.
Other conclusions from the paper included that customizing the Roomba should also include easily removable decorations for collaborative environments such as a family household.
While it is important to have empirical proof that customization increases a sense of ownership, I really think they just found out the obvious from this paper.
They could improve the study by providing a wider set of customization tools.
It is interesting to note that none of the people who were not given kits actually customized their Roomba. I also think it's funny that there are some families that were fighting over how to customize their Roomba. I could see my sister and I doing that back home.
I know I've been provided a big set of stickers for my guitar hero controller but I never use them because I think it somehow lowers the value of the device plus they're hard to remove once their actually on. This also reminds me a friend who sent in his I-pod to engrave some stuff onto back of case to make it feel more like "his own."
With a little common sense, designers and marketing people could make a device truly successful and engaging just by providing some customization tools. It goes to show that even adding something a little value, you can increase the desirability of a product by leaps and bounds.