Co-customizations are collaborative customizations in messaging apps that all conversation members can view and change, e.g. the color of chat bubbles on Facebook Messenger. Co-customizations grant new opportunities for expressing intimacy; however, most apps offer private customizations only. To investigate how people in close relationships integrate co-customizations into their established communication app ecosystems, we built DearBoard: an Android keyboard that allows two people to co-customize its color theme and a toolbar of expression shortcuts (emojis and GIFs).
In a 5-week field study with 18 pairs of couples, friends, and relatives, participants expressed their shared interests, history, and knowledge of each other through co-customizations that served as meaningful decorations, interface optimizations, conversation themes, and non-verbal channels for playful, affectionate interactions. The co-ownership of the co-customizations invited participants to negotiate who customizes what and for whom they customize. We discuss how co-customizations mediate intimacy through place-making efforts and suggest design opportunities.