User-tailorable systems: pressing the issues with buttons

Paper by Allan MacLean, Kathleen Carter, Lennart Lövstrand, Thomas Moran (1990)

It is impossible to design systems which are appropriate for all users and all situations. We believe that a useful technique is to have end users tailor their systems to match their personal work practices. This requires not only systems which can be tailored, but a culture within which users feel in control of the system and in which tailoring is the norm.

It is worth emphasising that we are interested here in skills required for tailoring. We do not intend to suggest that a ‘programmer’ is more skilled than a ‘worker’ in any absolute sense. If we were to focus on skills in the work domain, we would find that the worker was most skilled and the programmer least skilled.

As a first step in growing a tailoring culture, we claim that it should be as easy to change the environment as it is to use it (clearly all changes one might want to make will not be so easy - but it is important that some should be).

A remarkable amount of tailoring can be done by relying on buttons produced by other people. Buttons can be kept in documents and can be easily passed around by email, thus they are a tool for the user community to augment the Xerox Lisp environment by combining individual innovation and by sharing improvements with others. The fact that small-grain improvements can easily ‘diffuse’ throughout the user community is a powerful principle for supporting user-driven evolution of systems.


  • suggesters: jryans
  • curators: jryans
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This reminds me of the tailoring of TiddlyWiki by just drag and dropping Tiddlers, which could contain packaged data, functionality and/or presentation (including buttons). That kind of customization is far away of what most of the malleable software in use (beyond research) provide Today.

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