Maker Kits: Designing Collaborative Experience for Product Customization at Zazzle

Overview —

Zazzle aspires to become the destination where people can make anything. The company approached us looking for ways to support digital creativity while integrating collaboration into their current platform to enhance users’ creative experience. We spent 8 months exploring collaboration in creative process, and how people can create together meaningfully in digital spaces. Working closely with Zazzle, we created Maker Kits to make product customization at Zazzle more collaborative, accessible and engaging. Our ideas are selected and now incorporated with Zazzle’s newly launched product Zazzle Create.

My Role —

We are a team of six designers with multidisciplinary backgrounds from the Human Computer Interaction Institute (MHCI) at CMU. My key contributions including designing and leading research/testing sessions, creating user flows, wireframes, and interactive prototypes. Additionally, I was the team leader for establishing the final design guidelines.




Product Designer


Jan 2019 - Aug 2019

The Problem —

How might we make product customization design more collaborative and engaging?

Founded in 1999, Zazzle is an online marketplace specializing in customizable goods. Zazzle enables consumers and designers to create unique products and prepare them for on-demand production by independent manufacturers. As the company looks to expand its offerings into new products and services, our team was tasked with exploring new ways to support digital creativity through collaboration among users.

The Goal —

Connecting users, unleashing creativity

Our design goal is to help users unleash their creativity through various modes of collaboration. We explored new and innovative ways to connect different members of the Zazzle community -- both users and designers alike -- to lower barriers to creativity, inspire new ideas, and boost feelings of engagement.

The Solution —

Maker Kits: A new digital service making product customization experience more collaborative and engaging for Zazzle

Maker Kits are curated collections of digital assets that users can combine and modify to make their ideas come to life. Maker Kits are designed to give users just enough guidance and support to create confidently, yet flexible enough that users can unleash their creativity. 

Generative Research —

Understanding the barriers to creation and how can collaboration make a difference

In the research phase, our team’s activities have focused on exploration of the problem space, including how and why users engage in various modes of collaboration, user’s experiences with the creative process, and how collaboration can be leveraged to facilitate it.

We conducted two months of generative research, including interviews, survey, competitive analysis and literature review. We performed an affinity diagramming exercise to organize our findings and identified opportunities in creativity and collaboration.

Ideation: Brainstorming —

Going wide, going wild

After finishing up our generative research, we were excited to dive headfirst into ideation. We started out by going wide, putting all of our wildest ideas on the board and exploring how our research backed them up.

We each came up with 15 ideas, put them on the board, then categorized them based on similarity. Categories include (Lifestyle, Skill Building, Daily Creation, Expert/Novice Collaboration, Exchange and create for others (audience), Real-life experiences//installations, Gamification, Utilizing new technologies such as AI/VR)

Ideation: Speed Dating —

Testing our ideas with storyboards

Among all the wild ideas, we picked some most promising ones to generate scenarios and storyboards and executed speed dating with 22 potential users to evaluate users’ needs. Below are some of our selected ideas.

Through speed dating, we were able to collect valuable feedback from our potential users. And it turned out that among all the ideas, the Maker Kits idea and the process visibility idea are the most promising ones. As for the maker kit idea, it helps to lower the barrier of creativity, yet protects the feeling of ownership as well. As for the process visibility idea, we identified that the process videos serve as both a source of guidance and inspiration, which also aligns with our research insights.

Based on the feedback from users and the client, we decided to move forward with the Maker Kit idea as our main concept, and explore how other promising features can be integrated into it and form a system.

Design Concept —

What if you could build custom digital content the same way you build with LEGO?

We envisioned Maker Kits as curated digital asset kits that come with the perfect mix of guidance and flexibility to let you create freely & collaboratively and make your ideas come to life. 

Users can utilize the power of Maker Kits to simplify the product customization process when planning events or creating multiple items at once for everyday use. Through Maker Kits, users can connect with their friends, obtain expert guidance and feedback, and create beautiful customized goods in a flash. 

The Current —

Mapping the Current Journey

The Ideal —

Follow Maya's Journey, see the magic of Maker Kits

Maya is planning a special birthday party for her daughter Zaha -- and wants everything to be just perfect! With Maker Kits, Maya can easily customize all of her party supplies in the same theme. Click the video to experience Maya’s party planning journey!

Final Design —

Introducing Maker Kits

Maker Kits Browsing & Detail Page

Bring early-stage inspiration for your own design by browsing
We offer users a whole collection of Maker Kits under different themes, in different styles. On the detail page, users can even take a peek at what other users created with the same assets for their events before.

Smart Recommendation

Find everything you need for your dream event at once
Our recommendation engine learns about users’ style and event preferences by providing a short quiz, connecting them with everything they need to get started with maker kits.

And it comes as a combo
Based on user's selections, we provide a recommendation combo of kits and products for users to customize.

Combo Recommendation

Idea Canvas

Collaborate with friends to plan your dream event in real time
Idea Canvas offers users a simple and joyful way to share and get real-time feedback on design ideas, inspiration, and works-in-progress.

Multi-Product Design

Maintain a unified style across all of your creations at ease
‍The new Zazzle Create tool makes it simple to customize and preview multiple products at the same time. With Kits, it’s never been easier for users to design a whole suite of products that look great together.

Multi-Product Preview

Can’t wait to see what your party will look like? Neither can we.
Our new product preview feature lets users view all of their products side-by-side, so you can be sure that everything’s perfect for the big day before you click to order.

Final Design —

Design Guideline

In addition, we created the Design Guideline Cards to describe the principles, values and best practices for Maker Kits. We hope it can serve as a guidance for future exploration and implementation of the Maker Kits system. Click to view the digital version ➡️

Evaluation —




“Are Maker Kits a viable way for users to create?” 

“How do users work with Maker Kits in a digital format?”

“How do Maker Kits impact the way that users work together?” 

01 Physical —

Experience Prototyping:
Are Maker Kits a viable way for users to create?

In order to validate our Maker Kits concept, we conducted an experience prototyping session with 7 participants who have relatively few or no design experience. They were asked to use the package of Maker Kits we provided  to design either a T-shirt or a birthday card for their friend. During the process, we also provided three types of guidance for the participants: face-to-face consultation, a live-chat conversation, or by watching a tutorial video.

We found that our physical maker kits made design more accessible in terms of offering easy start and reducing efforts to maintain style consistency. 

02 Digital —

Usability Testing:
How do users work with Maker Kits in a digital format?

With everything we learned from physical prototyping phase, we decided to move forward with digital maker kits to see how we can transfer the great experience people had with physical prototype to digital.  We scheduled five user testing sessions to ask participants plan an event using our interactive prototype. Specifically, we observed how users browse and select kits, collaborate through idea canvas, create design variations, and preview their design work and products.

In conclusion, we successfully validated our concept. The feedback we received helped us simplified our prototype flow and information displayed, and refined the original version to the prototypes presented above.

03 Collaborative —

Collaborative Workshop:
How do Maker Kits impact the way that users work together?

To explore how real-time collaboration with Maker Kits is unique, we conducted four user testing sessions (8 participants in total) with simulated Maker Kits cross-comparing two variables: relationship (friend & friend vs. novice & expert) and communication mode (remote vs. face-to-face). We used Figma to simulate the collaborative experience designing with kits, and Slack to simulate the remote chat.

Overall, the Maker Kits concept was positively validated from both novices and experienced designers. Collaboration among friends was more dynamic and joyful, while expert&novice had more defined, negotiated turn-taking collaboration. Additionally, remote collaboration tended to reserve communication for higher-lever decisions, with little to no social interactions. On the other hand, people were more likely to make granular decisions collaboratively and had more social conversation when worked together in person.

Reflection —

Be a system thinker
Maker Kits were born not only as a means to lower the barrier to creation, but also as a way to foster connections and engagement between users with the creative confidence that they can create anything together at Zazzle. During my design process, I created a system map to help me think how our solution can bring more opportunities to the current platform and how it can be integrated into a larger Zazzle ecosystem.