Maker Kits

Designing a more accessible product customization experience through collaboration (MHCI Capstone, Zazzle)
  • ROLE: Design Lead
  • TIMELINE: January - August 2019
  • TEAM: Carol Cheng, Katelyn Duncan, Paopao Ge, Jing Hu, Wuyang Wang



Zazzle has the unique challenge of creating design tools powerful enough that users can bring their ideas to life, yet accessible enough that any user can start using them right away.

How can Zazzle leverage collaboration to make their product customization experience more powerful, more accessible, and more engaging?

Too Easy

When users get too much help, the creative process feels boring and uncreative.

Design Opportunity

A creative experience that combines the flexibility of expert tools with the ease of consumer-facing ones.

Too Intimidating

Without help, most users find the creative process overwhelming and intimidating.


Maker Kits are curated digital asset kits, assembled by designers to give users just enough guidance and support to create confidently, yet flexible enough that users can express themselves freely.  

Think of Maker Kits like LEGOs for digital product customization: modular design “pieces” created and assembled to work well together, with enough guidance to let users create with confidence.

Design & Curate

Designers create and assemble Maker Kit assets


Customer selects Maker Kit and personalizable product


Customer uses kit elements to customize their product


Customer's personalized product is ready to order!  

Easy-to-use, Modular Designs

Kits are comprised of individual design elements that users can drag, drop, and edit to their liking. Similar to LEGOs, kit elements are designed to fit together so users can focus on bringing their ideas to life.

Professionally Styled Kit Elements

Every Kit offers a selection of elements, fonts, layouts and colors. Kits are designed and curated to look great with one another, so users can create confidently, knowing that their final product will look polished and professional.

Browse Kits by Style & Theme

Users can browse Kits by theme and visual style to find something that matches their creative vision. From watercolor botanicals to comic book art, there’s a Kit to match every look.


Through evaluative research, our team discovered that the Maker Kits create value for Zazzle and its users in three unique ways:

More Accessible Design Experience

Kits allow users of any skill level to create with the control and flexibility of a professional designer, with just enough support to inspire confidence in their creative abilities. Kit users reported feeling more engaged in the creative process and a greater sense of ownership over their creations.

Jumpstarting Live Collaboration

Using Kits as a jumping-off point, collaborators can more easily communicate the ideas in their head -- things like taste, goals, and vision for a project. With Kits, collaborators can spend less time planning, and more time creating together.

Enabling Multi-Product Customization

Unlike design templates, Kits aren’t limited to any particular product format. Since Kits can be applied to any product on the Zazzle marketplace, individual Kits can be used to create a whole suite of products in a given style. From Weddings supplies to Home Decor, Kits enable creativity on a whole new scale.


Getting Started

At the outset of the project, Zazzle approached us looking for ways to integrate collaboration into their platform that would enhance users’ creative experience.

To that end, we framed our discovery process around exploring 2 big ideas: Creativity and Collaboration— and most importantly, they different ways they can interact.

What motivates people to seek out collaborators?

What are the characteristics of a successful creative collaboration? 

Where in the user journey might collaboration solve problems / add value?

Creativity: Motivation & Barriers

At the heart of our investigation was this notion of creativity — a notoriously slippery concept. We designed a survey to investigate how our users perceived creativity — what it is, what drives them to pursue it, and the challenges they encounter in the process:

81% of participants
wish they had more opportunities to feel creative.

Most common motivations for creative pursuits:

Practicality / Problem-solving

Fun & Amusement


Recognition from others

While a significant majority of respondents (n = 96) indicated a desire for more opportunities to engage in “creative” activities, the survey also revealed that even participants who had a strong desire to engage in creative pursuits commonly encountered “barriers”  that prevented them from realizing those intentions:

Limited Time or Resources
Access to Tools & Skills
Lack of Inspiration
Lack of Confidence

Through this early research, we realized that helping users overcome these “barriers to creativity” would be central to designing a more engaging, accessible creative experience.

Contextual Inquiry

To investigate the ways that working with others can augment the creative experience, we sought out real world environments that a) seemed to foster successful creative collaborations and b) made a point of supporting creators with less experience.

To that end, we conducted contextual inquiry with instructors at several of Pittsburgh’s largest Maker Spaces:  

We structured our protocol to investigate the ways that working together shaped individuals’ experiences, and took care to insure that participants with a variety of experience levels were represented in the data.

Through a series of 8 interviews with Maker Space participants and instructors, we discovered the involvement of collaborators can both help or hinder individuals’ creative experiences. We framed these insights as opportunities and challenges for creative collaborations:


Collaboration is a way to gain access to the tools and skill sets necessary to overcome roadblocks.

Witnessing others’ process can demystify creativity and boost confidence.

Working with more experienced collaborators can help to overcome roadblocks and build skills.

Bringing together people with similar skill levels reduces anxiety and boosts creative confidence.

Even when initiated for practical purposes, collaboration can be a basis for community and social engagement.


Collaboration in creative pursuits can diminish participants’ sense of ownership and identity.

Mismatches in experience level can foster unhealthy comparison among collaborators and diminish creative confidence.

Collaboration can often feel effortful, time-consuming, or unnecessary.

Creative differences and disagreements can lead to friction between collaborators.

Modes of Collaboration

In the process of conducting research, our team realized that in order to fully explore the problem space, we would need to develop a more precise understanding of how collaboration works, and all of the different ways it can happen.

To that end, we used the findings of our literature review to define set of 4 key variables that would allow to describe various potential modes of collaboration:


One-on-one collaboration is more efficient and personal than working together in larger groups. Individual collaborators feel a stronger sense of direction and ownership over the final product.

Large Groups

Working together with many collaborators can yield rich results when a variety of perspectives are represented. However, large group collaborations can be difficult to manage and often diminish individual contributors’ sense of ownership.


Expert-Novice collaboration can be an intimidating prospect for less experienced creators, who may fear appearing foolish. However, Expert collaborators are often a great choice for resolving difficult problems, or for ensuring a certain level of quality for high-stakes or long-term projects.


Collaborators of an approximately equal experience level are perceived as more accessible, and have an easier time communicating naturally with one another. However, peer-to-peer collaborations present fewer opportunities for skillshare, and are therefore less useful for overcoming skill-based hurdles.


Synchronous or “live” collaboration allows users to work together and exchange ideas more efficiently. This makes synchronous collaboration a sensible choice for projects that require a greater bandwidth of communication — such as problem solving and goal setting.


While users are resistant to live collaboration under most circumstances, asynchronous collaboration is perceived as lower-stakes, less demanding, and therefore a better fit for “everyday” use cases.


Though strangers lack the benefit of established rapport, they can be useful in providing an outside perspective. Moreover, working with strangers frees users from concerns about judgment or maintaining rapport. This can be especially freeing in stressful or high-stakes projects.


Working with friends dramatically lowers the “startup cost” of any collaboration, since collaborators have established rapport and can typically communicate naturally and effectively. Moreover, working with friends creates opportunities for delight and social engagement in a way that isn’t possible with strangers.

Key Opportunities

Through research, we discovered that collaboration can solve a lot of problems that users experience in the creative journey -- including overcoming “barriers to creativity” such as inexperience, self-doubt, and lack of inspiration.

However, collaboration can happen in many different ways (varying across time, relationship, group size, and experience level), each of which presents a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.

Peer-to-Peer Collaboration

Since friends have established rapport and communicate naturally, working with friends has a dramatically lower “startup cost”.

While Expert-Novice collaboration requires a strong external motivator, users are more willing to work with friends due to intrinsic motivators like enjoyment and shared experience.

Working with friends feels more accessible to users, yet offers many of the same benefits as working with an expert.  

Expert-Novice Collaboration

Working with experts allows novice creators to “level up” their capabilities and overcome skill-based barriers to creativity.

… but most “novice” creators are resistant to the prospect of working with an expert, calling it intimidating or unnecessary.

Great for complex or “high-stakes” projects where the user wants to guarantee a quality final product (i.e. weddings, work assignments)   

"Hidden" Collaborators

Asynchronous collaboration can be designed so that end users reap all the benefits of expert collaborators with little to no interaction.

This model of collaboration has been leveraged by products and services like LEGO and BlueApron to bolster users’ creative abilities without impacting their sense of ownership.



After identifying key design opportunities through generative research, our team set to work generating dozens of concepts that in some way leveraged collaboration to achieve the original project goals: to build a more powerful, more accessible, more engaging creative experience on the Zazzle platform.


From the dozens of unique concepts generated through brainstorming, our team evaluated these opportunities based on how well they aligned with the project objectives, how well they leveraged collaboration, and other metrics like readiness to integrate with Zazzle’s existing infrastructure.

Using this criteria, we selected 6 of the most promising design concepts for further exploration. We then developed these concepts into a set of storyboards that would allow us to explore possible future directions, and collect feedback from target users through a method called Speed Dating.

Speed Dating

To explore the feasibility of each design concept, we used the storyboards to conduct Speed Dating with a pool of 22 participants. Participants were screened to ensure that the feedback collected was representative of users with little to no experience in art or design.

Each session was conducted as an individual interview where participants were asked to consider the scenarios presented in each storyboard and respond to a prompt.

These results allowed our team to better understand user needs in context, and identify which aspects of our design concepts did the best job of addressing them.

Using this criteria, we selected 6 of the most promising design concepts for further exploration. We then developed these concepts into a set of storyboards that would allow us to explore possible future directions, and collect feedback from target users through a method called Speed Dating.

Why Kits?

Our decision to proceed with the Maker Kits concept was based in reactions collected from likely users, feedback from the client.

In particular, reactions from likely users collected during Speed Dating indicated Kits had a lot of potential as an accessible, engaging alternative to the current Create experience, and client feedback pointed towards Kits as valuable addition to the rapidly changing Zazzle platform:

Accessibility to Novice Users

The "Kit" format was similar enough to models in other domains (IKEA, LEGO, BlueApron) that novice users found it more comfortable to engage with.

Participants who ranked lowest for creative confidence rated Maker Kits as the most compelling and approachable concept.


The versatility of the kits format meant they could be adapted to support the unique needs of users with a variety of goals and experience levels.

Since Maker Kits represent more of a design system than a singular experience, they could more easily accommodate future changes to the platform.

Integration & Scaffolding

Kits were the most ready integrate with Zazzle’s existing technical infrastructure.

Kits functionality made them uniquely well-positioned to complement the rollout of several other features currently in development at Zazzle.

Maker Kits leverage several of Zazzle’s competitive advantages, including their community of designers and revamped create tool.  


Prototyping in 3 Phases

With a concept as open-ended as Maker Kits, we had a lot of questions to answer through prototyping and evaluation. We structured our iterative design process into 3 main phases, each intended to deepen our understanding of how users interact with Kits, and how our design could better accommodate user needs.

Phase I: Physical Prototyping

Are Maker Kits a viable tool for users to create with?

Protocol: 30 minute create workshop where participants were prompted to design either a t-shirt or a greeting card using tangible Maker Kits composed from paper assets.

Phase II: Digital Prototyping

How well does the concept translate into a digital experience?

Protocol: Think-Aloud usability testing, conducted with 6 users to evaluate our prototype. Users were prompted to complete a series of tasks using the high-fidelity Maker Kits prototype.

Phase III: Collaborative User Testing

How do Maker Kits augment the way that users work together?

Protocol: Using a collaborative version of the Maker Kits prototype from Phase II, we conducted usability testing with pairs of users who were asked to work collaboratively to complete a series of tasks.

Phase I: Physical Prototyping

Although the Maker Kits concept had performed well in Speed Dating, we needed a low-cost way to validate whether the concept could actually work in practice.

We accomplished this by creating a set of tangible “analog” kits that would allow us to test the concept with users. Each of the prototyped kits offered users a curated collection printed graphics, consistent with a particular theme and visual style (e.g. watercolor ocean).

We then recruited 10 novice users to participate in a 60 minute “Creative Workshop,” where they were asked to complete a series of task using only the assets provided in their Kit.

Participants were first asked to select 1 of 3 themed Kits, then prompted to create either a greeting card or a t-shirt for an occasion of their choosing.

In addition to observations made throughout the study, participants were interviewed about their experience at the conclusion of each workshop. These results helped us to understand the way that users thought about and interacted with modular design components in practice:

Working within constraints actually frees the user to focus on more enjoyable aspects of the creative experience.

Limitations of the physical kits (inability to search, organize, or resize elements) suggested important functions to include for the digital prototype.

Observing others’ creative process is an effective, lightweight way to help users overcome creative blocks.

Phase II: Digital Prototyping

With the promising results from experience prototyping to validate the concept, our next task was translate Maker Kits into a usable form that could integrate seamlessly with the Zazzle platform. Our first step in achieving this was to develop a customer journey map for product customization, and identify how Kits would augment that experience:

Through an iterative process of sketching and refinement, our design team used the touchpoints identified in our journey map as a framework to develop  our initial wireframes.

Our focus in this phase of prototyping was to capture both A) the experience of browsing and selecting Kits, and B) the way that Kits might “plug into” the existing create tool. This would allow us to benchmark our design against the current UX, and answer critical questions about how Kits might influence customers’ behavior over the course of their shopping experience.

A) Browsing Maker Kits

The first focus of our digital prototype was intended to capture the experience of browsing Maker Kits and selectively applying them to one or more products.

B) Creating with Kits

The second half of our digital prototype captures the experience of using its to create personalized products in the Zazzle Create tool. Notably, our design allows users to personalize multiple products at once using a single kit.

For this round of prototyping, we recruited 6 users to evaluate our prototype through think-aloud usability testing. Since our focus in this phase was to evaluate the utility of Kits for personalizing multiple products simultaneously, we recruited participants who had prior experience with targeted use cases like event planning.

Our think-aloud protocol asked participants to bring to mind an occasion for which they might plan a party, to create a set of personalized party supplies for this event using the prototype provided. Beginning on the site’s landing page, participants were asked to think aloud as they worked through a series of tasks like selecting a Kit and applying it to their chose party supplies.

Observations from this round of testing yielded lots of actionable insights that would guide our revisions in the next iteration.

Beginning with a blank canvas made the product customization experience more intimidating.

Users had trouble forming an accurate mental model of Maker Kits based on their kit browsing experience alone.

Users had a difficult time distinguishing the Maker Kit from the list of products they had selected to customize.

Phase III: 
Collaborating with Kits

Our focus in the final round of prototyping was to explore how Kits might shape the way that users work together.

The collaborative prototype was implemented using the online design tool Figma which made it possible for participants to interact with the prototype simultaneously.

Figma - used to simulate a shared workspace for collaborators (left)
Slack - used to facilitate communication among collaborators in remote trials (right)

At this time, Zazzle was looking to introduce a new feature that allowed users to get help from a live design expert, so we were particularly interested in exploring the way that Kits could facilitate richer collaboration among users.  

To understand how these effects might vary accross different contexts, we also varied the conditions for each session by 1) the relationship among collaborators (expert-novice pairs vs. pairs of friends) and 2) the mode of communication (face-to-face collaboration vs. remote communication via chat).  

Pairs of participants were prompted to work collaboratively, and using only the elements provided in their selected Kit, to design a personalized greeting card for an occasion of their choosing.  

While this round of prototyping offered further validation of Kits as an accessible creative tool, many of our most valuable insights came from observing how user behavior varied depending mode of communication and relationship among collaborators:

Collaboration among Friends was fluid, informal, and relaxed, while Expert-Novice pairs have a more negotiated “turn-taking” dynamic.

Referencing and manipulating kit elements in a shared space allows for richer communication between collaborators.

Users in “Friend-Friend” pairs were able to learn new skills at an accelerated pace by watching one another work.


Introducing Maker Kits

Maker Kits are curated digital asset kits, assembled by designers to give users just enough guidance and support to create confidently, yet flexible enough that users can express themselves freely.  

Design with Easy-to-use Modular Assets

Kits are comprised of individual design elements that users can drag, drop, and edit to their liking. Similar to LEGOs, kit elements are designed to fit together so users can focus on bringing their ideas to life.

Professionally styled Graphics, Layouts & Text

Every aspect of every Kit — Layouts, Graphic Elements, Fonts and Colors — has been curated by designers at Zazzle to look great together, so you can jump into that project confident that you’ll end up with something unique and professional.

Customize Multiple Products at Once

Kits make it simple to personalize multiple products in the same style at once. It’s never been easier to bring a unique and personal touch to an entire range of products for your special events and other projects.

Personalize and Preview your designs in a single view

Maker Kits are a great solution for Event Planning, Decorating, and other special projects. Personalize and Preview everything you need side-by-side in the new Zazzle Create tool.

Browse Kits and Product Spreads Easily with Project Planning Wizard

We get it, planning big projects can be overwhelming. That’s why we designed the planning wizard. Just take a brief quiz to get personalized recommendations for products you’re likely to enjoy and Kits you can use to make them your own.

Everything you need to personalize your event, in one place

After taking our brief quiz, you’ll receive personalized recommendations for products you’re likely to need, and Kits that’ll help you bring your creative vision to life. Just like that, you’re ready to jump into creating with Kits.

Use Kits to Share Inspiration with Idea Canvas

Kits are also a great way to communicate ideas, preferences, and goals with your collaborators. The Idea Canvas feature makes it easy to drag and share elements from any kit, to make planning your next big project a breeze.


In addition to the final design specs we delivered to Zazzle, our team developed a set of guidelines and principles to guide future exploration and implementation of the Maker Kits concept:

The Design Guideline offers highly synthesized insights from the entirety of our project work, including best practices for Kit design, principles for effective collaboration with Kits, and even unanswered questions to guide future inquiry.

Click here to view the Maker Kits Design Guideline.


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