In the world of e-commerce, very few names ring louder for clients than Shopify, a platform devoted to ease of use for its customers and simplicity of theme creation for its developer base. Last year, the Shopify team released Slate, an open-source developer toolkit designed to improve the experience of creating custom themes.
Despite initial release issues, Slate provided developers with a CLI in which to efficiently build on today’s fastest growing e-commerce platform. After a year of listening intently to the development community, Shopify has released Slate v1, a newly redesigned toolkit that helps reduce coding errors and improve the developer experience.
When we’re starting an e-commerce project at FortyFour, clients often mention the importance of SEO for their business, usually in regards to maintaining traffic after a redesign or a re-platforming. What’s not often discussed, however, is how SEO is a part of the shopping journey — or how content can be optimized for organic search growth and deliver long-term impact.
In retail, the display or kiosk can make a difference in whether a product sells. Even where the product is placed in relation to other brands, or how close the product is to the ground, can drastically impact sales. Consider a busy afternoon in SoHo or 5th Avenue in New York—the window display is meant to draw your attention and ultimately make you shop for the exact item or other items in the store. Let’s just say there are a lot of variables for why something may catch a shopper’s eye.
While e-commerce marketers tend to focus on conversion metrics, standardized functionality, and templated (or repeatable) design, the most natural function of a shopping experience is often the most ignored—window shopping or browsing. Shoppers are not always looking for an exact solution. Sometimes they’re just looking for inspiration.
Andrew Chen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Head of Growth at Uber, recently had a great thread on Twitter about how over-exposure to your product can negatively affect your ability to evolve that product over time.
“When you work on the same product every day for years, it’s easy to assume that everyone uses the product the same as you do,” wrote Chen. “Of course that’s not true!”
In fact, as Chen notes, the users a product designer is most similar to — core users who use your product or service to the fullest extent — are not the ones she should be focused on. “When you do the analysis, the most important user perspectives aren’t just your core users, but all the folks out on the edges who are casual, churned, or blocked somehow,” he wrote.
We experience a very similar problem in marketing. Marketers are more familiar with their brand than anyone else, and they often forget that not everyone is as exposed to the brand as they are. (In fact, most marketers would be horrified if they thought hard about how little consumers think about their business.) They grow fatigued with creative, or create complex, even convoluted communications that prospective customers have neither the time nor attention to decipher. Product designers are taught to keep it simple — marketers would be wise to do the same.
Marketers also focus too much of their attention on the “core users” that Chen mentions, when the bigger opportunity is on the edges of their business, i.e. the millions of people who have yet to try your product or service. One of the least true but most commonly believed marketing truisms is that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your sales. For countless businesses — Ford, Coca-Cola, Crest, Unilever, and Chen’s former employer Uber — this is not nor will ever be the case. Growth will always be reliant on high volumes of people purchasing a product somewhat regularly. (For a car, that’s every few years. For tooth paste, every few weeks.)
Does that mean core users or your most loyal customers aren’t important? No, they are vital and should be highly valued. But if your goal is to grow your business, the opportunity does not lie with those you’ve already convinced to click the buy button. The opportunity is to convince and convert the countless individuals who’ve never used your product or service in the first place.
That opportunity reminds me of a quote from another figure at Chen’s firm, founder Ben Horowitz. He’s fond of saying, “your story is your strategy.” You can’t be focused on growth if you aren’t telling a story to that speaks directly to the wants and needs of those who will help you grow: prospective customers. Oftentimes companies claim they are focused on growth, but the story they are telling is fundamentally about retention. They are speaking to their current audience, and developing products and services for loyal customers and power users.
The story your marketing organization is telling will betray your true strategy. Make sure it enables growth instead of getting in the way of it.
At the end of May, the e-commerce community was abuzz with the news that Adode would be acquiring Magento. For those who are entrenched in the community, the news should come as no surprise. This has been the plan since Permira acquired Magento from Ebay in 2015. But whether or not this was expected doesn’t answer the most important question: Is the acquisition good for Magento and its customers?
Here at FortyFour, we believe the answer is yes.
The e-commerce platform market has seen a great deal of consolidation over the last few years. The most notable acquisitions were SAP’s purchase of Hybris and Salesforce’s purchase of Demandware. These platforms, which already had good penetration into the enterprise market, were further strengthened by their new parent company’s broad suite of offerings.
Over the years we’ve had several clients ask for help with high-level corporate messaging — things like their corporate values. I’m excited every time the opportunity comes up because I’m a believer that corporate values can be more than pleasant sayings on a poster in a conference room: they can generate real business value. I also believe that many organizations miss out on that opportunity by misunderstanding the true purpose of corporate values.
Like any piece of internal or external messaging, crafting compelling, effective values depends upon understanding both the audience and the medium via which the content will be delivered. What’s fascinating about internal communications like values is that, sometimes, the audience and the medium are the same: yes, you want your employees to read your corporate values, but you also want them to ingest and evangelize them. Your employees—not a poster, internal email, or speech at an all-staff meeting—are the vehicle by which values are implemented at scale.
Love it or hate it, group chat has a place in the day-to-day life of every agency. No more sitting in a pod with a designer, a UX lead, a project manager, and a developer to make decisions: newly available tools are changing the development process for the better. Group communication tools have increased transparency, improved efficiency, and strengthened collaboration with our clients.
Here at FortyFour, we have group channels for everything: for projects, for teams, for favorite TV shows, for random thoughts (and there are a lot of random thoughts). Catching up daily on the kitten and Nicholas Cage memes can be time consuming, but distractions aside, we’ve found that private and public chat rooms have enabled us to make decisions without losing momentum.
Before we sing the praises of group chat, it’s worth noting that it has its own drawbacks. According to research that I found online (it must be true), every distraction costs somewhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours of productivity. On top of having an open floor plan and a highly collaborative environment at FortyFour, our group chat never goes away. Everyone has to learn to manage the distractions in their own way.
FortyFour has been growing quickly, and this past year, we officially added business analysis to our competencies. But you might be wondering: what is a business analyst, and why did we need one here?
Business Analysis Defined
The business analyst (BA) acts as a bridge between the cultural and technological sides of a digital agency. From the UX designers to content strategists to technology directors, various agency teams have a difficult time integrating the myriad projects and platforms in which they’re working. That’s where the BA comes in.
At the beginning of any project, the BA gathers all the requirements and develops a game plan. Through consumer research, design thinking, customer journey mapping, user flows, prototypes, and user stories, BAs are able to round-up all the requirements a new project will bring with it. Their goal is to ensure a consistent product vision, from the initial client discovery phase to the product release and through ongoing maintenance.
Was Thomas Jefferson a prototypical UX designer? According to Paul Landon, a user experience principal here at FortyFour, the answer is yes. Read on to learn about his interesting theory–and what else he loves about UX, life at FortyFour, and Atlanta in general.
Where are you from?
What brought you to FortyFour?
Before becoming a user experience designer, I worked in architecture for several years. But I’d had a longtime interest in digital, so it seemed like the right trajectory to move out of architecture and into UX. I started working at an agency. One of FortyFour’s managing partners had worked at the same agency, and our networks overlapped. I could see that FortyFour had a great creative team, plus more structure and leadership, which was important to me. So I joined the team, and now I’ve been here two and a half years–Taylor and I started the same day, actually.
What’s been your favorite client project so far and why?
On my first day, we kicked off Exide’s website redesign project. It was a great opportunity to impact their brand globally and tackle a very complex set of website challenges. The architecture had to provide a more organized framework for very diverse business units, appease internal stakeholders, and speak across industries. We created a strong, scalable solution. It was the largest website I’d worked on at that point, too, so it was cool to work on every stage of the process. I learned a lot.
The retail industry is in a state of flux. Legacy companies are still trying to navigate the move to ecommerce, and the new upstarts are learning why a physical presence is useful. Out of that turmoil, the retail landscape has come to be dominated by two firms: Walmart and Amazon.
Walmart has done a fantastic job of rebooting their ecommerce strategy in recent years. Marc Lore, who has run the ecommerce business unit since Walmart bought his company Jet.com for $3 billion in 2016, has taken what Walmart Labs was supposed to do and super-charged it with acquisitions and a laser-focused strategy.
Walmart has built out a brand strategy through the acquisition of companies like Bonobos, ModCloth, and Moosejaw. This lets them offer unique products that can’t be directly price shopped across retailers (Bonobos) while also leaning in to premium brands (through Moosejaw and ModCloth) for the customers who don’t consider themselves “Walmart shoppers.”
With that work underway and performing well, Walmart is focusing on additional customer experience points. Recode writes of two such projects, focused on a personal shopper experience for “high net worth urban consumers” as well as a rethinking of the in-store shopping experience. We’ll leave the latter alone for now because “fixing in-store shopping” could be a book’s worth of thoughts.
Phobio is known as a leader in the device trade-in space, but they’re more than a brick & mortar retail service–and they needed some help communicating that on their website. In partnership with the Phobio team, we’ve embarked on a two-phase effort to elevate their brand with updated designs and refreshed messaging. We’re proud of our hard work so far, so we wanted to take the opportunity to share the results of phase one and to congratulate our teams.
Phase one of the project began with discovery sessions to uncover what makes Phobio so great at what they do. Over the course of several conversations, we learned that they’re innovative and entrepreneurial, continually setting and resetting the bar for device trade-in. Their team is serious about software, but they also have vibrant personalities and a warm culture. So we realized that a pretty simple question seems to drive the Phobio team: what if we make device trade-in awesome?
Brands are eager to capture the attention of millennials: the generation that came of age around the 2000s, was the first to adopt social media, and has driven consumer culture since it began gaining purchasing power in the mid-aughts. Famously picky and equally loyal, millennials are an audience every brand strives to be on the good side of.
Our longstanding partner Coca-Cola has done just that. According to Business Insider’s recent study of millennial brand loyalty, the most refreshing drink on the shelves is also millennials’ most beloved beverage. Out of a hundred iconic brands—including Apple, Nike and Amazon—the study ranked Coke as millennials’ ninth favorite.
At FortyFour, collaboration is at our core. Working closely with our clients keeps us aligned on the goals and objectives of our work, and for each step of the process, it allows us to explain why we make the choices we do and what impact they have on the overall outcome. For example, typography is often considered an aesthetic component of the designed end product, but today, it’s as important to the overall user experience as ever. Using only type, we can guide a user to take a specific action, help them prioritize certain bits of information over others, or prime them to anticipate what comes next. That’s powerful stuff that we want our clients to understand so they can engage with us in a conversation that results in the best work possible.
What other elements of typography do we want our clients to consider during the UX phase? Let’s discuss.
It’s one we’re all faced with often but for the user experience designer, it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. If I simply say, “I’m a user experience designer,” I’m often met with a glazed expression and an awkward silence. I sometimes say, “I design websites and mobile applications,” but then people tend to think I’m a developer or a graphic designer.
In our defense, the entire field of user experience design has difficulty defining exactly what it is we do and the role we play. As a standalone discipline, the role of UX is still fresh and, quite frankly, a little controversial.
On one hand, we’re investigators. We interview, analyze, and sort out the who, what, why, and how of a project. We establish the foundation upon which the team designs and builds the site or app. On the other hand, we’re planners and problem solvers. We create site maps, information architectures, content outlines, user stories, and various other tools that serve as a roadmap for what users encounter. These define how they navigate the site, and how they accomplish their goals. But the fun doesn’t end there. Once the practicalities are sorted out, we slip into the creative role and explore the visual manifestation of this information through wireframes and prototypes. These are the blueprints that visually describe what we’re building.
Years ago, while on vacation in California, I had the fortunate — albeit slightly overwhelming — experience of sharing a cab over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge with the VP of Marketing for a very large home goods company. The conversation inevitably veered toward what I do and, upon discovering I worked for an advertising agency, what my agency was like.
Secretly hoping to get a foot in the door for some new digital business, I quickly set to giving her the list of amazing things our agency could do and the attributes that set us apart from the rest. There was only one problem: My explanation, while factual, wasn’t amazing or very compelling. Long story short, I got the business card, but not the follow up.
So while the business deal wasn’t struck, I came away with the discovery of a monumental problem: I didn’t know how to sell the company I so enjoyed being a part of.
The promise of digital centers around just how measurable everything is.
A marketer can go into an analytics platform and instantly see impressions, clicks, and spend by different audiences, times, and creative treatments. With on-site tracking, they can measure performance down to the individual marketing channel. The operations team is able to see how order volume changes during sales and by time of day. Finance departments can tie back every cent of revenue and cost directly to its source.
In theory, this data makes it easier to run an effective business. The marketing team can optimize around the best performing tactics, operations can forecast and plan for labor spikes, and finance has a clear view over how all of this impacts the company’s profitability. More conversions are good, less spend is good, on-time orders are good, and this is where most of our revenue comes from.
Digital platforms have become more sophisticated. The amount of data they collect and can report on has increased exponentially. This has been celebrated by many people in the business world. We agree — having that data available to a business is great. But companies should be diligent in how they consume data. Continue reading
Clear, consistent communication helps build trust between brands and customers. If a brand doesn’t seriously embrace a hard-lined style guide, it can come across as sloppy or unprofessional. Get your message across by establishing a defined, concise brand style guide and disperse it throughout the company to maintain compelling copy. Teach everyone from junior marketers to senior executives to follow the same rules, and your brand’s voice will be recognizable in all company communications.
FortyFour has a standard approach for developing brand style guides. Our rules include:
Pick a base style
It’s an unnecessary headache and time-suck to create a brand style guide from scratch, so lay a foundation with a pre-existing, somewhat common style. No one style is superior to the rest, just make sure you’re consistent. If you go with Chicago Manual Style, that means serial commas are standard. If you go Associated Press Style (which is industry standard in journalism), they are not. This ensures all content under the brand umbrella, including promotional materials as well as external and internal communication, is consistent. Continue reading
Shifting careers is often hard to explain. Whether you’re moving departments or starting over in an entirely different field, you’re likely to face a litany of retorts.
At first, I had trouble explaining my jump from the well-defined architect trajectory to the comparably young field of user experience design. Initial attempts to communicate parallels between the design of website interfaces and the construction of buildings were still lacking.
But after five years and trial-by-fire agency experience, however, I like to think I’ve refined my story. Below is a version of that, highlighting the exciting correlations between my former Architectural employment and current Experience Designer role.
Context is crucial
Understanding and operating within contexts is still essential to great work — all of the best architects and experience designers do it. They examine physical factors like the building site or device screen size and adjust design decisions to accommodate for these influences. Great designers also recognize and execute against non-physical determinants such as office politics, project budgets. All of these factors have a hand in shaping context-driven solutions. Moreover, a finished building or marketing website never stands alone; they’re one element in a collage of multifaceted contexts, a collage that affords architectural and experience design professionals an opportunistic medium through which to creatively work.
If you’ve worked in marketing in some capacity in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with a certain syndrome. It’s called “bright, shiny object” syndrome, and it affects marketers all over the world as they become distracted by the latest fad or trend in the marketing world. Whether it’s Snapchat for your B2B financial firm or Instagram for a funeral home, you may have been the victim or carrier of the syndrome (and that’s OK). With all of the new channels and marketing opportunities developing almost daily, it’s increasingly difficult to stay on top of the digital marketing world.
This is why few channels have lasted with the development of the internet as a more lower cost sales vehicle.Continue reading
When we started this journey five years ago, we really didn’t think we were starting an agency. To be honest, it wasn’t the intent. We had other aspirations, but we’ll save that for another post.
Once we knew that we were heading down the agency path, we took time to think about what we wanted to create. We didn’t want to just be another agency. We imagined something different, a company that valued real client partnerships — not perceived partnerships where budgets and margins are at the core — but partnership that results in exceptional work facilitated by integrated teams. We cultivated an agency with senior, hands-on talent creating the best digital products and services, where the managing partners stayed close to clients, and the work we created was paramount. We saw a need for brands to have a partner with expertise in designing, building, marketing, and measuring digital initiatives. We placed value on people, culture, transparency, and on developing long-term relationships.
We could have chosen a different path, but we chose this one.