What makes a great product configurator?

Christian Cornwell

by Christian Cornwell

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 12:41


User Experience best practice constantly changes. We’re always finding better ways to present information and improve processes. Usually this is through technological advancements. But occasionally it’s just a UX trend that works so well it gets adopted as the industry standard. Think of the hamburger menu as a perfect example. That familiar little three-lined icon sitting at the top left of your mobile device, that opens a navigation tray. This spread like wild-fire and is still commonplace. It strongly divides opinions, but for the moment it’s a mechanism that is here to stay.

With product configurators, although there are trends, no single interface is held as the holy grail. This is because every product is different, and even the same product can have an entirely different configuration process dependent on the brand. You’ll spend a lot less time defining the interior of a Ford Focus than you would a McLaren 720S. Trust us.

When we take on the design and build of a new product configurator at Burrows it’s not a one size fits all approach. We don’t start to define an interface until we have a solid understanding of the product options. However, as a rule of thumb we always ensure that the final solution hits home on five configurator UX pillars.


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An intuitive User Journey

A clear linear path is crucial. Configurator User Journeys are often confusing. The more complex the product, the more likely you’ll see the interface changing to cater for different types of options. This complexity has to be minimised. Once you know what options need to be covered, strive to create a few simple mechanisms that cater for them all. It’s much easier to complete a process that doesn’t constantly change. Ensure users have the freedom to jump to a particular point in the journey, but are also encouraged to complete it.

High quality assets

Push for the ‘wow’ factor. There’s nothing worse than poor quality assets. This is a user’s final taste of the product before purchase, which makes it just as important as the top-level brand imagery, if not more. Whatever solution we use for imagery, whether it’s photography, CGI or even real-time technology, we try to give customers as detailed a view of the options as they could get in real life. Showing contextual angles of the product is always beneficial. Finally, always aim to showcase the product in a complementary environment that aligns with the brand and demographic.

An engaging interface

Although interface layouts will change dependant on a product and its options, it’s important to provide a clear visual hierarchy, intuitive interactions and to ensure that the product itself is always the star of the show. At Burrows, we apply an ‘experience first’ design methodology. There’s no point jumping into mobile concepts if the application will be accessed via a 100” touch screen, or a VR headset (Yep! We create configurators for those too). If you are designing for web then yes, start with mobile first, but try to ensure all versions maintain a consistent look and feel. Desktop designs can be embellished with complimentary functionality, but the core stuff should be accessible everywhere. Remember that the little things matter. Slick micro interactions that surprise and delight will take user engagement up a notch.

Relevant product stories

Users are less inclined to add additional options or go for the higher specification if they’re unaware of the benefits. Although the bulk of product information often lives outside of a configurator on website product pages, it’s important you allow users to surface this information easily when they are making their decision. Product stories can be as simple as an image and some text, or they can leverage much richer content like dynamic footage, interviews or even interactive 3D models.

A strong finish line

By moving to the summary section, users are declaring they have finished creating their product. This is a powerful opportunity to wow them with their masterpiece and connect them with further touch-points. Summary sections can often fall short of this, simply regurgitating the same angles and listing all options as text. By providing a unique and personalised cinematic video, or a personalised brochure, you can create desire and encourage social sharing. It’s also important to gather as much information about the prospect in a frictionless way, avoiding the trap of intimidating them with too many form fields.

So what's the bottom line? Basically, every product is different and so is every brand. That’s why you’ll never see any two of our product configurators looking the same. But applying these five pillars at the start of any new configurator project has always held us in good stead. In the meantime if we ever stumble across the one configurator to rule them all, we’ll be sure to let you know.


Christian Cornwell

Senior Digital Creative