Read about Vaimo’s UX team and the individual work processes of our designers as well as our take on UX design for eCommerce. Learn what our designers think are the most important trends to look out for this autumn and how to make sure your eCommerce site is competing with the rest.
Contributing their insights and knowledge are:
Fredrik Andersson - Manager of Vaimo’s UX Department, based in Sweden.
Göran Gudinge- Art Director, based in Sweden.
Denis Antropov - UX Designer, based in Finland.
Rohan Visagie - UX Designer, based in South Africa.
Pål Aarø-Stillesby - UX Lead & PM, based in Norway.
I. WORKING AT VAIMO
1) HOW IS THE DESIGN TEAM SET UP AT VAIMO? WHAT’S THE CULTURE LIKE?
Fredrik: The Stockholm UX team consists of 4 members. We are also looking forward to an additional team member starting at our London office in August. We have a couple of UX/ Frontenders in Finland, Norway and South Africa and are looking to recruit one more UX/ Frontender in Tallinn and possibly another one in Stockholm.
Here at Vaimo we are very much open to new ideas and tools. I’d say our culture is to always give your team member a helping hand when needed. We try to be as honest as we can when giving feedback, setting ”designer ego’s” aside.”
Rohan: In the South African office we do not have a dedicated UX team, but each team has their own UX specialist. I am the UX designer in Team Edward. The designers in our office get along very well and try to share ideas and explore the next generation UX trends all the time.
Denis: I'm really happy that even though I’m the only UX designer in Finland, I can rely on the knowledge and help from the designers in Stockholm as well.
Pål: I'm the only UX designer in Norway but we cooperate with the other Vaimo offices and also our partners at Neolab.
2) WHAT’S THE MIX OF DESIGNERS YOU HAVE IN YOUR TEAM?
Fredrik: We have a range of different designers at Vaimo. Creatives coming from traditional print and those who started designing for web in its early days mixed with modern interaction design specialists. Various backgrounds from traditional web design agencies, in-house e-gaming and eCommerce teams, within B2B and B2C marketing, CRM etc. The work experience in our department ranges from 5 to almost 20 years.
Göran: I have 16 years experience with user experience and graphic design, both print and digital. I have worked as an consultant and also as an in-house designer.
Rohan: We basically have one UX specialist per team in Vaimo South Africa, but we are also part of the development team. This helps a lot because we actually know how our designs will be implemented. I started at Vaimo 3 years ago as a junior front-end developer. Back then there was no dedicated UX specialist in the South African office. Vaimo’s CCO - PJ Utsi - put me on a course to focus more on developing my UX skills, I learned a lot from trial and error as a UX designer and managed to get my Senior Frontend Developer title as well.
Denis: I have five years of working in design. I also studied design and got my bearings designing small online shops before joining Vaimo.
Pål: I’m a conceptual and interaction designer for Vaimo but here in Norway we usually get the graphic designs from our partners at Neolab.
3) WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU? HOW DO YOU GET INSPIRED AT WORK?
Fredrik: My day starts with a few hours of design delivery and then supporting one or more scrum teams that are implementing a design made earlier. I also call and email clients about design questions or issues that they might have. As a manager I keep track of who and when can take on the next design project and of course part of my work is also ensuring we are on track with financial numbers.
An important part of the job in the UX department is working together with my team so I also give design feedback to other designers. My own inspiration tends to often come from out CCO, PJ Utsi, who finds new eCommerce trends and functions on a regular basis.
Rohan: I have a couple of design blogs that I follow. Before I start with a design for new project I usually like to take a whole day just researching the latest trends and looking at competitor sites.
Denis: For me, every day brings something new and interesting in the field of design, the best inspiration for me is to surprise and push myself when creating a design.
Pål: My typical day is quite complex and full of different activities. I have a few roles to fill in as a designer in Vaimo Norway like project management, sales and support. I usually get inspired by shopping at other eCommerce stores.
II. DESIGNING FOR ECOMMERCE
4) HOW IS DESIGNING FOR ECOMMERCE DIFFERENT FROM DESIGNING ANY OTHER WEBSITE?
Fredrik: There is almost always a clear goal of showing a catalogue of products and making sure the end customer can find the right information at the right time when visiting the site. It’s important to know what type of data (attributes and similar) you can get from Magento. You also need to be on top of the implementation budgets, creating new commerce functionality can take a lot of time.
Rohan: Usually eCommerce seems like a very boring design job because it is limited in the sense that there are some elements that should always exist on the site. I think the trick is not to see that as a limitation, but as a challenge. I compare it to a car design- most cars have 4 wheels, a steering wheel, driver's seat and an engine (limitation), but exceptional designers/engineers work with those “limitations” and make a beautiful product. Ecommerce is the same - making an eCommerce site to look “non-template” is a true UX challenge - I love it!
Denis: The most important thing is to showcase the products in the best possible way and keep the experience as pleasant as possible for the end-customer. It’s important that there aren't impediments that would annoy the customer and force them to leave - for example, too much emphasis on signing up or a tedious checkout process. To make sure you get it right it’s definitely a key to know your typical end-customer and design the site for them, taking into account the factors that are most important to that specific customer group or groups.
Pål: UX for eCommerce is different, because the best original look and feel isn’t necessary what gets the high conversion rate. You have to be able to design for the delicate balance between conversion and look & feel.
5) WHY SHOULD A CLIENT CHOOSE YOUR DESIGN OVER ANYTHING A REGULAR DIGITAL AGENCY WOULD PROVIDE?
Fredrik: We have years of experience on how to layout pages and display the right type of content that will increase sales. We are also experts of the Magento platform making sure we can design great looking and effective sites where budget is a key factor. I would also say we are fairly fast and effective in designing new concepts.
Göran: We stick to the best practice when it comes to customer journeys and conversion rates. We have years of experience and statistics on eCommerce web design. We do not only consider the specific client type but also the market they are in and the devices their customers use.
6) WHAT’S THE DESIGN PROCESS LIKE? HOW DO YOU WORK WITH CLIENTS TO GET THE BEST RESULT? HOW DO YOU WORK WITH THE VAIMO DEVELOPMENT TEAMS?
Fredrik: As soon as I hear about a new project I start to envision how it should look. Estimating to the range of a given budget combined with what type of products the client sells and their brand values gives me ideas on how I’d like to design. This is not saying that it’s necessarily aligned with what the client has in mind when we come to the next step of a discovery workshop.
At discovery workshops we try to find out what are the goals of the project. Selling products is of course always a priority, but we also have to think about informational brand goals, specific SEO goals, omni-channel challenges. etc.
We try to understand the end customer's main drivers to buy and visit the site. We work together with the client to set the category structure and how the end customer will/should move around on the site. We do all this with the budget and timeline in the back of our minds to ensure we all have the right expectations before the actual design process starts.
We normally then continue to map what type of content the site will need and what templates and functionality we will have to design and build. We sync our findings with the development team to make sure we are still on track with scope. If not, we have discussions with the client on what type of features we need to take out. In projects with a more complex nature we then continue creating wireframes to get a better understanding of templates and functionality - all in order to align expectations of the client, UX and development departments.
When all this is agreed upon we start designing the basic framework and key templates like category and product pages. In most projects we will have a basic brand framework to start from (provided by the client). We then present these initial look and feel concepts to the client, followed buy a couple of feedback rounds before we continue delivering all templates and interactions for all other templates. In normal cases we provide designs for desktop and mobile viewports.
Göran: The design process is not only about the design. The UX department meets the client in Discovery workshops where we figure out the client's needs and wishes for the website. We look at things like the project background and the goals, build site structure and set functionality, product types and categorisation and often also the technical setup and integration challenges. Every project has different needs.
Rohan: Communication is key! Frequent communication is even more important. I like to have daily internal review sessions and weekly client review sessions. This way everyone is always up to speed and I don’t fall into the trap of becoming blind to my own mistakes.
Denis: We start the design process by meeting the client, understanding their business and end-customers and then creating a vision for the final design project together.
For front-end developers we create a separate style guide to facilitate a nice workflow. In more complex cases the developers can simply ask the designer of the project when something isn't quite clear.
Pål: It all depends on the size of the projects. For big projects we usually have a defined design process: insight - concept - interaction design - graphic design. We then have weekly (or more often if necessary) workshops with the client. If possible a responsible developer contributes to the process, otherwise they have insight to the Invisonapp to comment and estimate based on the sketches.
7) DO YOU WORK WITH BRANDING AND CONTENT ON THE SITES? DO YOU HELP CLIENTS COME UP WITH CONCEPTS AND IDEAS FOR CONTENT /IMAGES? DOES THE CLIENT HAVE TO PROVIDE ALL THE CONTENT FOR THE SITE BEFORE OR DURING THE DESIGN PROCESS?
Fredrik: Usually we get some sort of a brand manual from the client that we use as the basis for the framework. During discovery workshops we discuss what type of content is needed, sometimes the client has a very clear idea how this should be visualised, sometimes we benchmark with other sites to see what directions we should take. We rarely get any material apart from the product images before we start designing. A big part of the design work is to find and design appropriate content to display campaigns, blog content and similar, even though it likely will never get used. Part of our job is to sell the design concept to the client so we need to spend time on this to make the client to visualise how the site can look and to give a really good first impression.
Rohan: I have done branding and content for clients, however, most clients have their own internal marketing teams to set these up. I prefer to get all the content before the design process because it can affect the final design.
8) WHAT KIND OF USER RESEARCH AND DESIGN VALIDATION/TESTING METHODS DO YOU USE DURING THE DESIGN PROCESS?
Fredrik: In most cases we do some internal feedback rounds, both within the team and with other departments before we show the result to the client. We rarely show designs to end customers before launch. It happens in more complex B2B cases.
Rohan: If it is a really complex project I lean on our European UX gurus, but for the day-to-day validation I make use of my peers as well as friends and family.
Pål: We have done heat maps and A/B tests, but usually the clients don’t focus on that.
9) WHAT'S THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
Fredrik: Aligning client expectations with the budget and timelines. Dealing with many stakeholders, ranging from Vaimo sales and PM to all different departments (and CEO) at the client side. This together with personal ambitions to create great UX and beautiful design can be difficult. Convincing the client to build something for their customers needs and not for internal needs is important but it can be tricky when we don't have much input into the customers content in the end product.
Rohan: First design review session with the client - this can make or break the rest of the process.
Denis: If you work on a complex case with lots of content it’s easy to fall into the trap of making an overly complex and crowded site. However, if you take the time to learn the ins and outs of your client’s business and understand their goals, prioritisation becomes easy and you can create order in chaos.
Pål: As a designer it’s being able to be my own trusty advisor when I’m alone. But really the hardest part is firstly be the creative one, and afterwords the one responsible for what is implemented as a PM or a support person.
III. ECOMMERCE TRENDS
10) BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCE IN ECOMMERCE, IS THERE ANY GOOD GENERIC ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE TO ANY MERCHANT OUT THERE LOOKING TO START THEIR FIRST ECOMMERCE PROJECT OR REDESIGNING THEIR CURRENT SITE?
Fredrik: Some advice for Retailers. Make sure you showcase the products better than anyone else. Be on top of Google for the products brands you are selling. Make it fly on mobile devices.
Göran: Trust the best practice and eCommerce experience of Vaimo. Look at your own true needs, not only at your competition. Build a fast, usable and mobile friendly website, leave the fancy heavy content out.
Rohan: Firstly, even though choosing to build a responsive store is a no-brainer in today's world, I still feel it’s necessary to highlight the importance of having a responsive store.
Secondly, mobile first approach is becoming very important in blurring the lines between online and in-store experiences (the illusive omni-channel marketing phrase is the goal)
Thirdly, personalised shopping experiences - people love feeling important and not just like another customer. They want to have their experience tailored to their own preferences and needs. At the core of it all we have to answer the question of “What is in it for the customer?"
Denis: For the success and growth of eCommerce, always use the highest quality images you can which aren't going to significantly slow down your site speed, make sure you have the identical goods in stock as well, remember that the description of the goods and the information is as important as the design of the store.
Pål: I’d say: focus on developing your shop further on a continuous basis, spend money on advertising and constantly work with the content.
11) WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT TRENDS THAT ARE COMING UP FOR ECOMMERCE USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO? WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND THIS AUTUMN?
Fredrik: Think about what can be done for wearable products and other types of physical products (Apple watch, Internet of things etc).
Göran: Unified shopping history over different channels – “omni-channel experience". Design trends are hard to predict and actually not that important: fast and easy shopping is more important. Most online stores now have a similar "best practice" flow. The way shopping is "set", customers don't want to think, they want to shop and move on with their busy digital social life.
Rohan: I think personalisation and successful merging of in-store and online experience is something to look out for. Omni-channel!
Denis: For merchants who already have an online presence - Mobile acquiring. Social marketing. For merchants who still don't - it’s about time! Multichannel sales have allowed the traditional offline shops to increase profits - going online not only helps maximise sales but also brings those online shoppers to your brick and mortar stores as well.
Pål: Mobile thinking, less is more.
12) ARE THERE ANY DESIGN INNOVATIONS YOU ARE EXPERIMENTING WITH INTERNALLY?
Fredrik: We would like to find a better way to give design prototypes to our clients and development teams. Today we rely on Photoshop and static JPGs, we feel it’s not enough to give a good idea of the end result.
Göran: A lot of new actors are taking on the big king Adobe Photoshop and we follow them to see what the future of web design looks like.
Rohan: Working with clients whose customers are mostly browsing on Retina devices - we want to make optimal use of those extra pixels. The trick is combining a fluid hi-resolution experience with a high-performance grid system.
13) WHERE DO YOU SEE VAIMO TAKING ECOMMERCE IN THE COMING YEARS?
Fredrik: More focus on B2B products.
Denis: The biggest player in the world when it comes to building online stores and helping to evolve brands and businesses.
Rohan: Wow, just saying 'the sky is the limit' sounds too cliché - so I’ll say “To infinity and beyond” - Buzz Lightyear.