During the Magento Imagine 2013 conference, someone asked me what I thought was the theme of the conference based on the subject matter of all the sessions we had been attending. The person asking me said he thought the conference theme seemed to be leaning toward “responsive sites”. I disagreed. I believe the theme of the conference was the same as the current movement and the current trends in eCommerce design. Great eCommerce design all about focusing on the needs of your customer and the user experience, and building websites for the users rather than fitting the user inside of a predetermined box.
Customer-centric designers and developers know that today’s savvy consumers want more than just a website. They desire an engaged experience. Three trends seem to emerge once you get to know your customer’s behavior a little better.
- Responsive Designs
- Omnichannel Applications
- End of Best Practices
In responsive design, the layout of the website shifts and changes based on the size of the screen the consumer is viewing it on whether it’s a widescreen desktop monitor, a smaller laptop, a tablet, or a mobile phone.
The type of users and their devices are important because we cater not only content, but also experience. Users with older phones may not have the best experience if they have to download a content-heavy site. What’s even worse is if the imagery and content that is taking so very long to load is not even necessary to the point of the site.
Let me give you an example. When you move out of an apartment and buy a bigger house, often the first thing you want to do is buy more crap to fill in the empty space and rooms. But is the extra crap really necessary? The same principle applies for web design. We must not overcrowd the content when it is not necessary. When you reach the monitor screen size, do you really need all those slideshows and carousels, or is it just there to take up space?
With responsive design comes a “mobile first” mentality. Mobile breaks down the site content into its basic form, asking “What is the point of this website? Is it to buy? Is it to educate?” After we discover that point, we cater the user experience around it. We build out as the site transforms into tablet, desktop and even tv resolutions.
We are not just designing for phones, tablets and monitors anymore. Smart designers and retailers leverage omni-channel retailing which concentrates more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels (web, tablet, mobile app, store, social media via advertising or through a partner or affiliate). This type of retailing allows customers to buy products on other sites completely disconnected from the ecommerce store.
Some examples of Omnichannel applications are:
1. The Endless Aisle where a customer walks into a brick and mortar store and if they don’t have the item they want, they can easily order it at a kiosk. Read more about it in this article – Can You Grow by Shrinking? How ‘Endless Aisle’ is Changing Retail
2. Kiosked.com – You can sign up at this website and then browse content sites and buy the items you see without having to actually go to the store to buy it. It also works on video which is amazing.
3. Interactive markets where people can get off a train, scan the items they want on their phone and then it will be delivered to their door when they get home.
The End of “best practices” as we know it?
There is a current movement to kill “best practices” which is basically the idea that following “X” number of steps will make for a successful website. While best practices are a good starting point, to be truly successful you need to tap into what makes your specific customer buy and what is their motivation to buy. There needs to be a viable market. That doesn’t come from a pre-made template or a top ten article.
As designers, each client we work with has different needs for their customers. Only through implementation and testing on target users will we really know what works best. Good design involves in-depth testing. Good designers know how to test and how to take that testing information and use it to evolve the design. As mentioned before, good design does not involve fitting the user inside a predetermined box. Testing your site is extremely important. Similar to the scientific method, the content manager and UX manager must do background research, make a hypothesis, test, analyze, communicate and retest. This is another reason I believe that generic web site templates are not as effective as a custom design. A custom design build is a site that will compliment your brand and support your business to become what you want it to be.
The importance of keeping current
As a designer, keeping up with current trends is vital so you have a complete toolbox of design elements available to design the best site for your client. This design must be client specific to give the customers an engaged experience every time they are on the site. Technology is ever-evolving so something that might work for a site now may be obsolete next year. The technology used in your site needs to be specific to the customer needs. Perhaps they need back end integration or are concerned about load time. SEO strategies will not be as effective without great custom content. This is becoming even more evident as Google refines its search ranking algorithms that focus more and more on relevant content.
Unless you engage in an extensive discovery process about what your client is trying to accomplish through their website, you won’t be able to customize their site. Know your client. Know their customer. Design accordingly.
Nicole Domanski is a founding partner and the Lead Designer for Envalo, Inc., a Beachwood, Ohio-based eCommerce solutions company.