How to make online stores that look great, function well and sell stuff.
Interior designer Charles Eames once said the role of a designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host, anticipating the needs of his guests. Digital design is no different. As your ecommerce site designers, it’s our job to create a digital space that anticipates and responds to the needs of your guests in a considered, functional way.
The DO digital design philosophy can be summed up as a focus on a few brilliant things, and hundreds of tiny simple things.
Let’s unpick this.
Our design decisions are informed by semiotics, which is the study of how meaning is created and communicated through signs and symbols. One thing demonstrated by semiotics is that our brains are wired to seek out things that they recognise. In an online environment, this translates to customers looking for common icons, text and processes to direct them around a website.
Customers will intuitively look for layouts that are consistent with other websites, conforming to their understanding of the medium and leaving them free to focus on the reason they are (hopefully) on your website to begin with—to buy your product.
When creating websites, we align our clients’ brands and products within these commonly understood visual systems of communication. Then we add the little (brilliant) touches that make each store unique, creating a welcoming and thoughtful environment for your customer.
How to be a good digital host
There are a number of ways to really elevate your digital customer service offering via great digital design, but perhaps the most important is personalisation. We ensure our clients’ websites provide a personalised customer experience by using the following tactics:
- Ensuring a returning customer sees their name within a few seconds of visiting the site
- Displaying products (e.g. shoes) that are available in the customer’s size
- Remembering a customer based on their email, so they don’t have to enter their full address and credit card number
- Saying “have a nice day”, “happy Friday” or “nice choice, bro” (via a pop-up box) at just the right moment
- Predicting if a customer might be just about to depart the site and tapping them on the shoulder just in time.
The simple truth
Good digital design doesn’t get waylaid with technical showmanship just for the sake of it. We focus on getting all the simple small things right to provide a streamlined user experience. Here are a few of our key design rules:
Buttons look like buttons
They are rectangular, with minimal text and room to breath. No diagonals. They do not rely on hover effects. A thumb can click/tap them.
Links look like links
The original websites had links that look like this. Every link on a website should be that intuitive. On the flip side,
Simple words and icons.
‘Shop Now’. ‘Buy Now’. ‘Add to Cart’. ‘Checkout’ (using baskets, trolleys and bags instead of ‘Checkout’ is like changing a green light to aqua. Don’t mess with what works).
Your header must have the cart button top right (must look like a button). Ensure your contact details are accessible. Use short titles for menu links. Your side menu icon should be on the top left, your Search bar is in the middle and it should look and behave like the search box on Google.
Homepage is for directing traffic
The main function of a homepage isn’t to get someone to sign up to your newsletter; it is to direct them to the products that they are most likely to buy. Give customers simple options to direct them where they want to go; for example, Shop Men or Shop Women. Shop Nike or Shop Adidas. Place all important information above the fold of your homepage.
Show an image, title and price above the fold on your product page. Show information that gives customers confidence first (e.g., shipping info, reviews, payment options, stock availability).
Use a simple grid with 3–4 images per row. Square images if possible, but all images must be the same size. Display product title, price, ‘compare at’ price. Leave room for optional text like ‘Sale’, ‘New’, or ‘Popular’. Product titles may be one word or 10, so the design needs to accommodate this. If a product has multiple colours, show this.
Make it super easy for a customer to log in or sign up to the website. This includes limited fields for entry, or non mandatory additional fields to ensure the barrier to sign up and completion is minimal. Additionally incentivising sign ups with a discount offer or $10 off your first purchase is a great way to get engaged customer sign ups. Finally this also contributes to building on your lifetime customer value.
A clear hierarchy of styles is developed that can be applied consistently across the site. These always include ‘heading 1’, ‘heading 2’, heading 3’, ‘heading 4’, paragraph, link, button. We like to use Google Fonts because they load quickly, are made for web and are open source.
No fancy functionality. Keep it simple—include payment icons, contact details and social media links.
Good digital design always has the customer experience at top of mind. We develop ecommerce websites for our clients that are not only visually appealing, but intuitive, user friendly and responsive. This increases your ability to both sell product and build/retain your customer base, by creating a personalised digital space that is easily navigable and functional.
It’s the least a good host could do.