Design is not art. This statement, which seems so simple, has important connotations for our projects, because art doesn’t require the approval of the public, only the author’s and art typically doesn’t solve a problem, it ideates on one.
Simplifying what is design, we could say that design, including digital design:
- Solves one or more problems
- Offers a clear message that does not need interpretation
- Looks for acceptance from the majority of the public or an audience segment through engagement or interaction
- Doesn’t require innate talent, but it does require very specialized skills
Besides these characteristics, good UX design is also aesthetically attractive and follows trends in typography, colors, composition, photography, video, etc.
Throughout my 20-year professional career in design, I have been involved in several projects where many of these points were not clear in the minds of executives, focusing on what they may have preferred from the limitation of a personal perspective, without having clear target audience objectivity, and understanding engagement with a core customer demographics’ needs and tastes. The result of singular or shortsighted, individualistic design choices, in my experience, have often led to flat sales, and disappointing or stagnant conversion rates.
The difference between a website design that performs and propels a business forward versus one that does not, is one that has as its foundation Strategic Planning that is interpreted through objective benchmarking, analytical ‘metric driver’ thresholds, website engagement end-user behavior combined with those specialized skills required for superior website and digital design. In essence, eCommerce web design and strategy go hand in hand.
The strategy is the glue that ties design with other initiatives; marketing, operations and priorities that when batched together correctly have the opportunity to maximize the growth position of a digital platform.
The idea of an isolated designer on his or her computer with an initial briefing (often called an RFP or Request for Proposal) and an aggressive deadline is not ultimately what will drive a company’s digital business to maximum growth and profitability. In order to achieve growth objectives, the design team must be fully exposed to the web design strategy and aware of the evolution and the different facets that dictate a strategic positioning and ultimately that team must be an active and informed participant in both meetings and decisions made regarding the following aspects of digital platform implementation:
Communication between teams is therefore fundamental; if there is siloed or isolated communication between team members or parts of the design and development process, the resulting digital platform is most likely sub-par. Teams such as what we foster here at netamorphosis, both internally and as integrated partners with our clients, operate under a core philosophy: that we have all of the required experts living under 1 roof and that communication internally and with our clients is 100% coordinated, so that all respective resources can make the most informed decisions throughout the design and development process.
The Strategy serves as the guide and ultimately the tool or manuscript in which all initiatives are planned, specified, designed and programmed.
Data consulting is the cornerstone for locating the problems to solve and to define the goals that design should solve.
A fundamental service that we offer our clients that is part of our Strategy is Analytics Consulting. Through data analysis we calculate our clients’ historical performance, projected future performance, product category and price point analysis and ommnichannel attribution. From a topside perspective, and to best isolate and understand current end-user engagement and the function of design, we analyze how specific marketing initiatives that may include newsletters, social media and other traffic funnel engagement that reflects the user’s interaction and purchasing behavior. We then focus analysis around topside metric drivers such as traffic calibration, conversion, and purchase behavior so that we also understand seasonal and macro-business trending. Within our strategy deliverables, we build a direct-to-consumer or channel-centric P&L that isolates all costs impacting digital, eCommerce or omnichannel platform efforts, in addition to CAPEX initiatives such as CRM system build-outs and other initiatives that ultimately impact ROI potential of a platform is build-out.
Through all of this data we establish a framework where we can clearly isolate the vulnerabilities of an online business; in this case related to design and we propose recommendations (i.e. the “solutions” or “goals”) with which to define a data driven insight strategy that is built through priorities specifically created to achieve those business objectives.
A good design will either shine or end up being a fiasco depending on the content that feeds it.
A well-designed website doesn’t work if it doesn’t showcase great content assets: photography or image assets, graphics, videos, animations, text, etc. The collaboration between content creation and web design is therefore inherent. The design is especially influenced by the quality and look & feel of its images. This is especially relevant in eCommerce digital platforms, where the product must not only be perfectly represented, it must also add more value through its presentation as it doesn’t have the added benefit of a salesperson selling it in a store (whereby, the odds of influence and purchase increase significantly); it must represent a certain lifestyle and make the customer feel strongly enough to purchase it from a remote physical location. From the 100+ websites that the neta team has constructed, we can affirm that:
Great photography = higher conversions
A relevant reference that Lyde Spann and I both shepherded from concept to the first iteration is zara.com. Zara.com was constructed to leverage its fast fashion model online, with a minimalist and functional design that shifted the power of the digital and fashion eCommerce experience to its photography. Much as Zara focused its physical experience to be as upscale as a European luxury retail brand…such as Gucci…or Prada; when it came time for zara.com to make its debut they applied the same philosophy, and it has led to one if not the most successful eCommerce on-ramps in history.
To illustrate my point, as a user on zara.com, you can simply take a look through different categories to understand that a garment is much more sellable when a model moves and poses as if she were in a magazine, than a static human mannequin or a technology simulation (as a cost reduction) that simply shows the classic front, back, profile and detail photo angles without providing the ‘added value’ that eCommerce platforms must deliver on each product page in order to reach their growth potential. It is therefore, critical in a category like fashion to establish processes in which quality photographs are executed quickly and efficiently. And, we know that this is possible because in Zara, the first fashion company to adopt the “Just in Time” system that Toyota invented in 1948, where it only takes Zara two weeks from personnel in the store detecting customer demand of a particular garment (i.e. red skirts) to be manufactured and delivered to Zara’s physical stores – this by its very nature is the more recent term ‘fast fashion’. Through our workflow management, we were able to replicate the fast fashion speed through photography production. While it was important to construct an efficient and fast process; one that also yields high quality assets was the priority that we were able to deliver upon in the zara.com customer experience.
To invest in photography (facilities, equipment, human resources, models) is smart for an eCommerce business that strives to meet its maximum growth potential. The ‘lighter’ yet dynamic web architecture of zara.com is the perfect vehicle for garments to shine above other graphic elements, but without a prior strategy that identified the ultimate objective to do what Zara’s stores do best, the website would have most definitely fallen beneath its potential. Instead, when we emulated Zara’s core strengths and customer experience we exceeded expectations by:
- Delivering garments from production to in store within two weeks; online from production to the product page
- Replicating a luxury experience in store; online through high-quality photography and best practice UX Design
- Facilitating consumer purchasing to be more frequent; which at the time of zara.com’s launch was 2x per week in the physical store, and today averages 3x per week online
Zara.com represents the close collaboration between design, strategy and content, that can yield the highest returns for your omnichannel platform.
SEO and Design, the odd couple
Together with quality of content, user behaviors which are called ‘signals’, indicated by user interactions such as: average session duration (i.e. how long a user spends on a web site or page, where the higher, the better) and Bounce Rate (percentage of single-page sessions; where the lower, the better) can now, in the era of Google’s Machine Learning system “RankBrain”, be considered amongst the most important ranking factors. The reason for these signals is that interpreting user feedback is one of the most direct ways of assessing the relevance and quality of content in addition to the success of the user experience. This makes it possible for search engines to draw precise conclusions regarding user satisfaction – and whether or not the search results were able to fulfill the user’s intention.
Here design carries significant importance based on how the user browses a website or app, how the user is led through the user experience to explore content that lies deeper within the website, and how the look & feel helps the user feel more confident in their ability to make a decision. This type of positive user experience is what helps a website to rank higher in Google. Who knew?
There are other important design decisions, however, that also influence SEO rankings such as:
- Usage of web fonts such as Google Fonts for faster browser rendering
- Usage of optimized images
- Creation of responsive websites with pages optimized for mobile devices (which is absolutely mandatory these days)
- Addition of elements (such as focus boxes, block quotations on text heavy pages, etc.) that help Google index more content in more efficient ways
- When design takes into account the structure of headers; such as, H1, H2, H3,…
- And the list goes on…
One of the greatest challenges in ensuring your design is in tandem with Google’s ever-changing indexing and ranking algorithms is to consistently improve upon the user experience, incorporating the latest in web technologies, while iterating tactics and marketing campaigns that continue to improve user engagement. There is a particular need for SEO web design and being able to not only have the page be visually appealing, but also generate good SEO value by incorporating keyword-mapped text that works with the design of the page (i.e. lists, definitions, and/or blocks of text explaining technical elements of the page’s content). This makes the SEO web design process a crucial part of our Strategy and serves as one of our core services within our design capability.
UX Design, “a money making” machine
Can a user’s experience really influence sales? Absolutely. Think of an online store and the many options we have to improve the numbers. Amongst them, one very important factor is conversion. A business intelligence consultant can visually show you the conversion funnel that displays how many users enter the web at a given time and how many are leaving the site at every step in the buying process, until we categorize those who complete their purchase (our favorite user!).
Our conversion funnel can also show the different steps in which the checkout process is divided, so that it is possible to see how many users abandon the checkout at each step. Through a conversion funnel analysis, we can discover that a website might be losing out on revenue opportunity, because a button for the following step is not clear enough or the messaging that encourages conversion is not prominent enough or it can point out an eCommerce integration issue which happens more often than you might think.
It’s easy to understand that, for example, by improving just one of the steps of an online checkout process through a UX enhancement detected and monitored by a conversion funnel, that results in a user intuitively understanding what she or he must do to successfully check out, or through the reduction of clicks via step elimination that this can augment the audience that progresses to the next step and ultimately have a significant impact on conversion, resulting in corresponding higher sales.
On a site the scale of zara.com, even a small improvement of a few decimal points within an intra-checkout conversion, can translate into a significant improvement in sales and ultimately, channel income, as this can be a relatively low cost effort.
Following improvements made at the top of the funnel, where UX design strategies push the user into the store and ideally the product into the shopping cart, can have an even more dramatic impact on overall conversion and sales, as now there are 2+ distinct conversion funnel improvements that begin to have an exponential effect.
It is fundamental to analyze, interpret and understand user behavior and to offer the intelligent user experience design solutions that maximize conversion funnel touch points in conjunction with other metric indicators. As a digital design agency focused on helping you achieve your business’ maximum potential, we incorporate all of these elements into our strategic plan for eCommerce web design that has been shown to not only help your business grow, but also achieve the greatest amount of conversions.
Digital and website design must be adapted to current technology but always a step ahead, with an eye towards the future.
Now that more than 50%+ of users browse the web from a mobile device, creating responsive websites is no longer an option, it’s mandatory. The paradigm “design for desktop, then adapt for mobile” has become obsolete pretty much overnight.
In order to build effective responsive design, the needs of each device must be considered.
Considering mobile device users first, is steeped in the fact that mobile usage now surpasses 50%, and this rising trend has been consistently growing since more than 4 or 5 years ago; however, as is often the case in the realm of technology adoption, most companies didn’t progress until 1 or 2 years ago…which means there was an avalanche. Many companies and their websites hurried towards responsive design, and as a result what was sacrificed in 9 out of 10 website experiences?
- Good UX
- An interactive graphic presence that would be considered “good quality graphic design”
- A consideration of the needs of the mobile user, in particular for eCommerce websites
Just as designers must be informed by strategic business objectives designers must also be in constant contact with the Technology team who will ultimately develop the website or platform. Too often we have had to come in as a ‘doctor’ when there is little to no communication between design and development. As you may know, a design can’t be replicated from one platform to the next; it’s not the same to design for Magento, IBM Websphere or Salesforce, as each platform is unique with technical features, 3rd party integrations and native architectures that allow for legacy systems integrations. These factors influence what can and cannot be built. The designer should offer the best design for the determined platform technology, and a design should never be initiated until the right platform decision has been made for a company, given its business objectives.
When we consider the parameters of good design today to maximize a company’s digital footprint and growth potential, it’s a complex equation involving data consulting, technology trends and a thorough understanding of platform technologies; cross-communication of eCommerce or digital platform’s business objectives, analytics and metrics indicators and optimization… and in reality, this is the tip of the iceberg.
So, if you have hired a UX designer, a graphic designer, a digital or creative agency and if you are simply just being given ‘design’ without the parameters that we have provided as integrated components that are clearly communicated… the question to be asked is… are you achieving your maximum digital or eCommerce growth potential?